Fans of The Archers have been glued to their radios as Rob Titchener hatched a plan to snatch his baby son away from the child's mother, Helen.
Rob intended to take Jack with him to start a new life in America, but his plot failed as Helen and other family members managed to stop him as he left Ambridge.
This dramatic story line raises important and serious questions for those parents who are afraid that their child may be taken by an estranged partner.
Firstly, it is important to understand who has Parental Responsibility for your child, as it is only those people who can make decisions about them.
All mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility and fathers acquire it if the parents are married or if the father is named on the child's birth certificate. If not, a father can acquire it by agreement or court order.
If the parents share Parental Responsibility then they have to reach agreement about important issues such as, where the child lives. If you are a step-parent, or the partner of a biological parent in a same-sex partnership, you would not have parental responsibility unless you’ve both taken steps to obtain it.
In theory, there would be nothing unlawful about a parent moving abroad with their child without the consent of the other parent, who does not have Parental Responsibility. Child abduction is distinct from the criminal offence which involves removing a child from the United Kingdom.
However, this is not to say that any parent should remove a child from the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales without reaching an agreement with the other parent or obtaining a Specific Issue Order from the family court.
If a parent were to permanently remove a child from England or Wales you might breach another parent’s rights to spend time with their child and a court could declare that a child has been wrongfully removed and retained in another country, triggering steps for the child to be returned.
What to do if You Fear Child Abduction
If you believe there is a real risk that your child might be taken, there are preventative steps you can take.
- Keep the child's passport safe.
- Alert the child's school or nursery so that they are clear as to who can collect the child.
- Alert the police if it becomes an emergency because they could issue a 'Port Alert' that would help stop a parent at the UK border and if the parent taking the child is committing a criminal offence they can be arrested by the police.
- Take legal advice from a children court order specialist.
There are a wide range of family court orders that would protect the child. The most common is a Prohibited Steps Order. Court orders can prevent one parent from removing the child from the other parent and prohibit parents from applying for a child's passport. However, it would not stop them from being able to get a passport from a foreign embassy if the child was entitled to such.
Child Contact Arrangements
From the child's perspective, it will be necessary to formalise the amount of time that they spend with the other parent and their family. Consideration will need to be given as to whether any contact or other time should be supervised by a third party, such as another family member. Such contact could form part of a Child Arrangements Order if dealt with by the family court.
In The Archers, Rob's contact with Jack is regulated by a family court order. By attempting to take baby Jack away from Helen, he was in breach of the civil court order. This means Rob is at risk that the family court could revisit the child contact arrangements and make them much more restricted, perhaps even supervised or stopped altogether. If Rob had taken Jack to America, Rob would have been guilty of child abduction meaning he would likely end up with a criminal record as well.
This is a dramatic story from radio soap, but in the real world, the effect on the innocent parent and particularly the children can be traumatic. In these types of cases, it is much easier to stop something happening in the first place by getting legal advice early, rather than trying to repair the damage afterwards.
In the real world, the family court look dimly on any parent that takes steps to upset a child’s usual day-to-day living arrangements without very good cause, whether there is an existing order or not. If parents cannot agree arrangements between themselves, the court can do so considering what is in the child best interests.
Nick Hodson is an expert family solicitor who specialises in complex cases involving children. He is based at Slater and Gordon Lawyers Manchester office.
Contact Slater and Gordon Lawyers for an initial consultation about child abduction issues on freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online.