National missing persons coordination centre

Family courts and parental abduction

What is parental abduction?

Parental abduction is a term which refers to when one parent takes, detains, or conceals a child from the other parent. Parental abduction may happen in circumstances where the parents have separated. It is not uncommon for other family members to assist the abducting parent in removing or concealing the child.

What do I do if my child has been taken?

If your child has been taken by another parent or family member you should consult a legal practitioner for advice.

Family law and missing children

Family law matters are sensitive and an emotional time for all involved. Every situation is different and matters are treated on a case by case basis. If you would like more information about family law procedures and forms, please visit the Family Court Of Australia website.

In some cases, children who are the subject of custody orders by the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are taken by a single parent in contravention to the custody ruling. In these circumstances the children may become subject to a recovery order to return the children to the parent or guardian who holds legal custody.

Recovery orders

A recovery order is an order of the Court that can require a child be returned to a:

  • parent of the child
  • person who has a parenting order that states the child lives with, spends time with or communicates with that person, or
  • person who has parental responsibility for the child.

A recovery order can authorise or direct a person or persons, such as police officers, to take appropriate action to find, recover and deliver a child to one of the people listed above.

The Family Law Kit on the Australian Federal Police (AFP) website further explains the role of Police in family law matters.

Publication orders

The names and identities of people involved in family law proceedings are restricted under Section 121 of the Family Law Act. The Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia sometimes issue publication orders that lift these restrictions when a child is missing. This is to assist in locating a child who has been involved in family law proceedings and has been taken from their parent (usually by the other parent). Publication orders are issued under s.121 of the Family Law Act. The orders can be made on the request of a parent who is seeking public assistance to find their child.

See the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre list of Missing Children subject to Family Court Matters.

What happens when a child is taken overseas?

If a child is parentally abducted out of Australia, recovery of the child becomes subject to international laws surrounding child abduction.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty for children who are wrongfully removed or wrongfully retained by a parent. It ensures that children will be returned as quickly as possible to the country in which they habitually reside, so that issues of parental responsibility can be resolved by the courts in that country. The Convention came into force in 1983 and has 81 signatories worldwide.

Visit the Attorney General’s website to view more information on International family law and children.

International cases

The issue of parentally abducted children is not unique to Australia. The AFP is a member of the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN). The GMCN was launched in 1998 by the International Centre of Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC). The AFP in partnership with ICMEC each year supports International Missing Children’s Day. For more information on missing children internationally, please visit the Help Bring Them Home website.

Parental abduction and missing children factsheet (PDF 1.2 MB)

Disclaimer: This material is produced by the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and is intended to provide general information in summary form on parental abduction and missing children. We have sought to ensure this information is accurate and current at the time of writing. The contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek formal legal advice from a legal practitioner in particular matters rather than relying only on the information on this page.

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