International child abduction

Cases involving international child abduction can be heart-rending for the left-behind parent. The pain of unexpectedly losing contact with a child is often compounded by the complexities of dealing with long distances, a foreign court and family law system, a different language and financial pressures.

B.C. has a central authority that assists parents whose children have been abducted across international borders, either to or from B.C., and parents who are seeking contact or access to children in another country. The central authority provides information and support to parents directly, or assists their legal counsel in B.C. or in the other country.

Below is some important information about the law relating to international child abduction cases.

Section 80 of B.C.'s Family Law Act provides that the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Convention) has the force of law in B.C. The Convention is an international treaty in force among some 90 countries. Its primary goal is to achieve the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or retained from their place of habitual residence. Removal or retention of a child is wrongful when it is in breach of "rights of custody" held by a person, court, or other body, such as a child protection agency. “Rights of custody” is the term used in the Convention, but the Family Law Act refers to “guardians” and “parental responsibilities.” Other legislation, including in other countries, use other terms, such as “parenting rights” and “custody of a child."

The Convention applies to children under the age of 16. In most Convention cases, children are abducted by one of their parents.

The Convention promotes a quick court process in which the left-behind parent applies for the child’s return. The application is heard and decided in the country where the child was taken. The court in that country applies the Convention, but does not decide which parent should have custody or guardianship of the child. That issue is left to be decided by the courts of the child’s habitual residence, if the child is ordered to be returned.

More information about the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is available in Frequently asked questions.