Child Abduction - Runaway Mother Feels the Force of International Law

Cross-border child abduction is an all too frequent result of broken relationships but it is also unspeakably cruel and English judges take their international treaty obligations to stamp it out very seriously. The High Court powerfully made that point in ordering the return of two young children to their homeland in Italy.

Although their parents met as students in the UK and owned property in this country, there was no dispute that the children were ordinarily resident in Italy. Following the breakdown of their parents' relationship, their mother removed them to England in what the Court described as a blatant act of child abduction. Their father launched proceedings in England under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, seeking an order for their return to Italy.

Granting the order, the Court noted that child abduction is a particularly cruel, unpleasant and insidious form of abuse. The children had been the subject of extensive contact and custody proceedings in Italy and Italian judges had expressed concern about the mother's attempts to alienate them from their father. As an interim protective measure following their abduction, an Italian court had awarded him exclusive and immediate custody of the children.

The Court rejected the mother's plea that an enforced return to Italy would expose the children to an intolerable situation or grave risk of physical or psychological harm. The children's objections to returning to Italy were rooted in the adverse and antipathetic image of the father that had been fostered by the mother. In short, there was an overwhelming case in favour of a return order being made.

The father had in good faith undertaken to pay for the mother's one-way flight back to Italy and to cover her accommodation rent for three months. He also promised not to initiate or support any criminal proceedings being brought against her. However, the Court noted that it would have issued a return order even had those undertakings not been offered.