October 18, 2023

What you need to know about child abduction law in the UK

International child abduction

What is the law with parental child abduction in the UK?

If a parent removes a child without the the other parent's consent then this could constitute child abduction.

There are several different types of parental child abduction, and how the law is applied to each scenario is largely dictated by the country that the child is taken from, and where they are taken to.

If a parent removes a child without the other parent’s consent or retains a child following an agreed period of time e.g. after a holiday:

  1. outside of the UK to a Country which is signatory to the Hague Convention 1980 then these cases will usually be referred to and dealt with by the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) as an “outgoing” abduction.
  2. to the UK then this is an “incoming” abduction. England is signature to the Hague Convention 1980. Legal proceedings will take place in the High Court in England.
  3. to a Non-Hague Convention Country then the English Court is limited in what it can do assist in the return of a child from a Non-Hague Convention country and therefore, proceedings will need to be taken in the country to which the child has been taken.
  4. to the UK from a Non-Hague Convention country. Legal proceedings will take place in the High Court in England.

There are many terms that are important to understand when discussing the details around parental child abduction in the UK. Below our expert child abduction lawyer has listed some of the most important.


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Important orders, terms and phrases within parental child abduction law.

Prohibited Steps Order

A court order prohibiting a child’s removal from England. An application pursuant to S8 of the Children Act 1989 can be made with or without notice to the other parent if there is a real risk of an imminent departure.

Collection, Location and Passport Order – “Tipstaff Orders”

These orders are made without notice to the abducting parent and are appropriate where a parent has gone to great lengths to hide a child and therefore, there is a concern and real risk that a parent may leave the Country with the child.

A collection order requires that a child is delivered to the Tipstaff so that the child can be placed in the temporary care of the Applicant parent or another person until a further hearing, which usually takes place within a few days. It includes a bench warrant to enable the Tipstaff to arrest and detain anyone they reasonably believe is disobeying the order and to bring them to court as soon as possible.

A Location Order requires the Tipstaff to Locate a child.

A Passport order requires the Tipstaff to seize passports only.

With all three orders the Tipstaff will seize the parent and the child’s passports which are held at the Court office until further order and a Port Alert is put in place.

A Tipstaff Officer

The Tipstaff is the enforcement officer of the High Court. Their function is to execute orders of the High Court. They act with the assistance of the police. They do not carry out investigations. They rely on information provided to them by lawyers.

Port alert

An all ports warning is a 24 hour service to alert police and immigration officers via the police national computer at air and sea ports, as well as the Channel Tunnel, to prevent a child leaving the country.

Wardship and Inherent Jurisdiction

The High Court is a superior court which has the power to hear child abduction cases. A Wardship order is an extreme order which puts a child under the jurisdiction of the court which means a child cannot be removed and no important decision can be made without the court’s permission.

CAFCASS High Court

CAFCASS represent the interests of children and young people in the family court. The High Court team specialise in abduction proceedings and representing children where appropriate.


A C67 application is the form used to start proceedings in the High Court for the return of a child to a Hague Convention country.


A C66 application form is used to initiate proceedings in the High Court under the Inherent Jurisdiction in relation to children for example, in Non-Hague Convention abduction proceedings.

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If your child has been abducted or you are concerned about them being taken abroad, please contact our expert.

Kim is a recognised expert practising exclusively in all aspects of international and domestic children law. This includes international child abduction – Hague Convention and Non-Hague Convention wardship proceedings pursuant to the Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court and relocation proceedings.

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