International parental child abduction

This guidance outlines options to consider and who to contact if your child has been taken or kept abroad by their other parent or a relative without your permission.

Many children have parents of different nationalities or have connections to different countries. If parental relationships break down, they may not agree on major decisions about their child (or children). This may lead to one parent moving their child from their usual home without the agreement of the other parent. International parental child abductions are difficult, complex and emotional for those affected.

Preventing parental child abduction

  • if you are concerned that your child or children may be abducted abroad by their other parent or another family member contact a suitably qualified family lawyer. A lawyer may be able to apply for a Child Arrangements or other Order to stop your child being taken out of the country. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you may also be able to apply to have your child made a ‘ward of court’ through a Wardship Order. This means the court becomes a legal guardian of your child and can decide what is in the child’s best interests
  • contact the Passport Office (HMPO) because you may be able to stop your child obtaining a British passport without your permission. You will usually need a court order to do this
  • if your child’s other parent holds a different nationality, contact that country’s embassy, high commission or consulate in the UK. You or your lawyer should write to that embassy, high commission or consulate and ask them not to issue a passport to your child, if the other parent makes an application. They do not have to do agree to do this, but they may do so voluntarily
  • ask your local police to issue a ‘Port Alert’ if your child is likely to be taken abroad (within 48 hours) without the consent of all of those with parental responsibility. A Port Alert means the police can contact the National Border Targeting Centre to alert all UK points of departure and try to prevent an abduction. It is active for 28 days, allowing you to seek legal advice if you have not already done so. You will need a court order to extend it beyond this time. For a Port Alert in Scotland, there are separate procedures including a requirement for a court order to be in place.
  • contact Reunite International Child Abduction Centre,  a charity providing practical advice and support to parents and families whose children have been, or might be abducted or wrongfully retained overseas

If your child has been abducted

When contacting the authorities try to have available:

  • your child’s full name, age, date of birth, passport details and all their nationalities
  • details of the abducting parent and their relatives, in the UK and abroad
  • details of the abduction:
    • the date of the child’s departure from the country where they usually live
    • where the child was taken
    • the legal relationship between you and the other parent at the time of the abduction
  • documents and details of any court orders relating to your child, such as a Child Arrangements Order, a Prohibited Steps Order or a Wardship Order
  • any other relevant documents, including the child’s birth certificate, your marriage certificate and separation or divorce agreements

You can:

  • report the abduction to the local police. If your child has been taken abroad but you do not know their location, the police can contact Interpol. Interpol may be able to work with police forces abroad to help find your child
  • check if there is country-specific information on parental child abduction for information about legal issues for parental child abduction in the country your child may have been taken to
  • seek legal advice from a family lawyer in the UK accredited to deal with family matters. Depending on which country your child has been taken to, you may also need to appoint a lawyer abroad
  • check if your child is in a country to which the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction applies. The Convention is an agreement between various countries, which can help return an abducted child who is under 16 years old to the country where they usually live

Call the FCDO on +44 (0)20 7008 5000 to check whether the country where your child has been taken operates the Convention with the UK (or the country where your child usually lives).

Countries where the 1980 Hague Convention applies

To apply for the return of your child under the Convention:

  • if you live in the UK, contact the UK Central Authority. This authority administers the Convention in the UK
  • if you live abroad, contact the Central Authority in the country where you live

Countries where the 1980 Hague Convention does not apply, or your application under the Convention was refused

You should consider what would be the most effective option for your circumstances:

  • try to come to an agreement with the other parent
  • seek mediation: specialist mediation services can help parents to reach agreed, workable solutions in the best interests of their child
  • start legal proceedings in the courts abroad to have your UK court order recognised by a foreign court, or to seek a new court order under the laws of that country. A lawyer from that country can advise you on your options
  • checking whether criminal charges can be brought against the abducting parent, either in the country the child was taken from or in the country they were taken to. However, this may delay efforts to get your child back, and some countries do not consider parental child abduction as a criminal act

How the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) can help

The FCDO can:

  • provide advice and help you contact the relevant authorities abroad if you have concerns about your child’s welfare
  • contact the authorities abroad to express our interest in a police, social services, or court case and ask about progress, where appropriate

The FCDO cannot:

  • ‘rescue’ a child or get involved in any illegal attempts to bring a child back to the UK
  • guarantee the return of your child, even if a UK court orders this
  • carry out welfare checks, but we can advise you on how to report any welfare concerns to the competent safeguarding authority in that country


We welcome your views on the support we provide, to help us to identify what we do well and what we could do better. Contact us using our feedback contact form.

Alternatively write to us:

Consular Feedback Team
Consular Directorate
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

Or telephone +44 (0)20 7008 5000


Read the disclaimer relating to this guidance.

Published 31 August 2022