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Hague Convention on International Child Abduction

In 1980 the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (for the remainder of this article “Hague Convention”) was concluded and adopted. As of 2012, there were 89 countries that had adopted the Convention. The intent of the Hague Convention is to quickly resolve cases where a child has been wrongfully removed from his or her country. While it is titled child abduction, it often is applied to cases where a parent wrongfully removes a child to another country to avoid custody or visitation laws.

The Hague Convention applies to all children under the age of 16. It requires contracting states to return children to the country of habitual residence (where the child usually lived) if the child was removed from the original country in violation of custody rights or rights of access. This usually happens where a custodial parent improperly moves to another country, violating the visiting parent’s visitation rights or when a visiting parent abducts the child and takes the child to another country to avoid the effect of a custody order.

The Hague Convention states that the responding country shall return the child if the application for return is made within one year of the wrongful removal and will also require the return of the child if the application is made more than one year after the removal unless the child is now settled in his or her new environment.

There are, however, exceptions. The Hague Convention does not require the child to be returned if the custodial parent was not actually exercising custodial rights, consented to the removal, or acquiesced in the removal. The court can also refuse to return the child if returning the child would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or place the child in an intolerable situation. These exceptions have been very narrowly construed fairly consistently.

In addition to requiring the return of the child to the country of habitual residence, the convention also allows for an award of costs and fees against the party who improperly removed the child. Fees include attorney fees, travel expenses, court costs, as well as expenses incurred in attempting to locate the child and the other party.

Hague Convention cases are rare, but can be complex and expensive. Having a basic understanding of your rights under the convention, though, is the first step in protecting yourself and your children.