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Family Law

Proposed federal changes to criminalise international abduction by parents

By May 31, 2017No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

The Federal Government has announced proposed changes to legislation which will increase police powers and allow criminal sanctions to be applied to parents who keep children overseas longer than has been agreed with the other parent: abduction.

The move revealed by attorney-general George Brandis is aimed at deterring parents from deciding not to return children from overseas, as well as making it easier for authorities to locate children removed from Australia.

A spokesperson for Mr Brandis said, “The impacts of wrongful removal and retention on children can be devastating and long lasting.”

The plan is intended to close what is seen as a legal loophole whereby parents who retain a child overseas against the wishes of the other parent currently face no criminal action.  Currently, if parents have the permission of the other parent to take the child overseas for a given length of time but then outstay it, it is regarded as a civil matter, which can make collaboration with international police agencies difficult. Criminalising the withholding parent’s actions will enable Australian police to engage more easily with their international counterparts to locate and retrieve children.

Under the plan, potential penalties would include jail terms up to a maximum of three years for offending parents. Police will also have increased investigative powers in regard to phone tapping, checks of phone records and accessing bank information.

At present there are around 100 applications to other countries for the return of children to Australia are made under The Hague Convention on international child abduction. However, it is believed the total number of situations involving children kept overseas is actually closer to 1000 cases. This is because the Hague Convention does not cover many countries to which Australian children are taken, such as many in the Middle East and southeast Asia.

In its submission to a Senate inquiry on the issue, the Human Rights Commission has expressed the view that the use of criminal sanctions against parents needs to have defined “exceptions and defences”, in part because imposing criminal sanctions on a parent may not be in best interests of the child.

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Do you need help with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance for a free first conference.


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