Cross-border parental child abduction

Cross-border parental child abduction refers to a situation when one parent unlawfully removes the common child (the common children) from the country of the child’s habitual residence to another country without the consent of the other parent.

Cases of cross-border parental child abduction mainly occur when bi-national marriages or partnerships fail or parents are divorced and the foreign parent removes the common child (the common children) against the will of the “domestic” parent to his/her home country. On the topic of child abduction by one parent, please also see the relevant EU website.

The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (HCCA) is a multilateral treaty, which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abductions and retentions across international borders by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return.

The full text of the convention, the list of Contracting States and the list of the competent Central Authorities in the respective Contracting States is available on the website of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, section on Child Abduction. In Austria, the Central Authority under the HCCA is the Federal Ministry of Justice, Section I 10.

This Central Authority is the point of contact for all matters relating to parental child abductions from and/or to countries that are Contracting States of the Hague Convention.   

If children are abducted from or into countries which are NOT Contracting Parties to the HCCA, parents may in principle use two approaches:

1) If there is a custody decree issued by an Austrian court, the parent who has legal custody may have the court ruling recognised and declared enforceable by the competent court of the country the child (children) has (have) been removed to. Otherwise an Austrian court ruling is not binding abroad. The Austrian representations abroad may provide information on reputable local lawyers or may assist the affected parent by sharing information and experience provided by local EU colleagues.

2) The parent who holds custody may turn to the competent court of the country the child (children) has (have) been removed to and initiate separate custody proceedings in order to obtain the necessary legally enforceable decree ordering the return of the child (children). The Austrian representation may provide information on reputable local lawyers or may assist the affected parent by sharing information and experience provided by local EU colleagues.                

It must, however, be pointed out that both approaches may result in very lengthy and costly proceedings. Neither of the two approaches is viable without involving a lawyer in the country the child (children) has (have) been removed to. The Austrian Ministry has no mandate to represent the interests of Austrian nationals before court. The costs of legal representation (lawyer/s) and legal fees (court fees) must be borne by the affected parent and can NOT be assumed by the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs and/or the Austrian representations abroad. In this context, mention should also be made of the possibility of international mediation provided in some countries by government authorities or non-governmental organisations which cooperate with these government authorities.