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Your ex-partner is taking your children without consent

This advice applies to England

You might be able to stop your ex-partner taking your children somewhere without your permission.

You need to act quickly - whether you think they’re going to be taken somewhere in the UK or abroad.

If you think they’re going to be taken to live abroad

You should get legal advice straight away – find a solicitor who can deal with child abduction cases on GOV.UK.

You might be able to get legal aid, or help with fees if you’re on a low income. Your nearest Citizens Advice can help you find a solicitor and work out how you’re going to pay.

You can also contact Reunite, a charity which specialises in cases of child abduction to foreign countries.

If you think your children will be taken out of the country in the next 48 hours, call the police on 999. 

If you can, hide their passports. If you don't have them, find out on GOV.UK if you can stop their passports.

What the police will do

The police can issue something called a ‘port alert’, which will stop the child being taken out of the country.

Try to gather any evidence you can that your partner is planning to take them abroad to show your solicitor and the police - for example texts, emails and tickets.

If they’re moving within the UK

If you can’t agree where your children will live, you should go to mediation. A professional mediator will try to help you come to an agreement that works for you and your children.

Unless there was domestic violence in your relationship, you’ll need to go to at least 1 mediation session before you’ll be able to go to court - even if your partner won’t go with you. This session is called a mediation information and assessment meeting ('MIAM').

You should make sure you have parental responsibility. All mothers and most fathers do. If you’re not sure, you can check if you have parental responsibility on GOV.UK and apply if you don't.

If you can’t agree

If you’ve tried mediation or been to a MIAM already, you can apply to court for a ‘prohibited steps order’.

You’re only likely to get a prohibited steps order if you can show that your ex-partner is trying to move your children for a reason that’s not in their best interests - for example, to stop your children from seeing you.

You might be able to show this if they’ve tried to stop you from seeing your children in the past - for example, by cancelling arrangements you’ve made to spend time with them.

If you ex-partner can show that your children’s lives will be better because of the move, it’s more likely that the court will decide in their favour.

If you can, get advice before going to court. A solicitor will be able to tell you whether a court is likely to decide in your favour. You could also talk to an adviser at your local Citizens Advice.

Coronavirus - if you’re going to court

Courts are changing the way they work because of coronavirus. Hearings could happen:

  • over the phone or by video call - these are sometimes called ‘remote hearings’

  • with a mix of people in the court and people joining over the phone or by video call - these are called ‘hybrid hearings’

You can check how to prepare if the court arranges a hearing by phone or video call.

If you go to the court in person, you’ll have to wear a mask or covering for your mouth and nose. If you don’t wear one, you won’t be allowed in the building. Some people don’t have to wear one – check who doesn’t have to wear a mask or face covering on GOV.UK.

If the court hasn’t told you how to attend your hearing, contact them to find out. You can search for their contact details on GOV.UK. 

If you’re the child’s parent, you can apply to the court for the prohibited steps order by following the steps on GOV.UK.

If you’re not the child’s parent, you’ll have to download the paper form on GOV.UK.

Coronavirus - don’t use the online application if your case is urgent  

If you use the online application it could take too long.

Your case would be urgent if, for example:

  • your child is in danger
  • your ex-partner hasn’t returned your child when they should have

Contact your local court and explain your case is urgent - you can find the court’s contact details on GOV.UK.

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