Parent child abductions likely to increase over Christmas

By Lenore Rice

Christmas is a difficult time for divorced parents and their children. Making arrangements that keep everyone happy isn't easy, and for many non-resident parents who don't get to spend Christmas day with their children, it is the time of the year when they most feel the impact of the separation.

A worrying pattern is starting to emerge in statistics on parental child abduction over the past few years, with a notable increase in parents taking children abroad after Christmas without the consent of their former spouse. The other time in the year that there is a spike in parental child abduction is after the summer holidays. The charity Reunite said they dealt with 447 cases of parental child abduction in 2013.

Who is at risk?

It is becoming increasingly more common in Northern Ireland that one of the spouses in a marriage is originally from another country. That usually means they have family somewhere else, often in Europe, and they could relatively quickly establish a new home for themselves outside of Northern Ireland. Any parents in this situation who have recently divorced, or seen an increase in problems in respect of child custody and contact, should be aware of the risks of parental child abduction, especially if their former spouse has expressed at sometime an interest to return to a country they lived in previously.

Why is the risk increased over Christmas?

As mentioned previously, Christmas can be the time of year that non-resident parents; those that don't have custody of the children for the majority of the time, most feel the absence of their children. All around them families are getting together, while many non-resident parents will spend Christmas on their own. As such, many parents will start to consider their options on how they can increase the time they spend with their kids, and a very small percentage will conclude that their only option is to do something drastic. Those parents who have family in another country can relatively easily create a new life for themselves away from Northern Ireland, and many who have left their home countries will be more than happy to return to their family.

There is also the issue of 'opportunity'. Parental child abductions increase over the summer holidays and after Christmas. They are the two times of year when going abroad is most common and a request to take a child out of the country will not seem particularly strange. As a result of the children spending the main Christmas days with the resident parent there may have been a compromise agreed that the other parent could have the children for longer than normal - a week instead of a weekend perhaps. As such, the time of year presents an opportunity for those parents who may have already resolved to the drastic action of abducting their children to a foreign country.

It is important to stress that while parental child abduction is on the increase, it is a very small percentage of divorced parents who take such a severe step. However, if you feel that your particular circumstances mean that your children are possibly at risk you may wish to discuss the matter with a family law solicitor.

To speak to a Northern Ireland family solicitor on any matter relating to divorce contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 1363.