Advocating for Children in Parental Abduction

Abduction of children – even international abduction of children – is nothing new. A century ago two abducted French children captured headlines after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. Michel Marcel Navratil, 4, and his younger brother, Edmond, 2, were passengers on the Titanic and were being abducted by their father, Michel, a tailor, when it sank April 15, 1912. The two boys became known as the “Titanic Orphans” because they were the only children rescued without a parent or guardian. Their father, Michel Sr., who died in the accident, had boarded the Titanic under an assumed name. He had taken his children from his estranged wife and was removing them to the United States in hopes of a fresh start. A French-speaking first-class passenger, Margaret Hays, cared for the children at her house until their mother, Marcelle Navratil, could be located, which occurred as a result of newspaper articles which included their pictures. She was reunited with them in May 1912.

Today the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention) expedites the prompt return of children wrongfully moved across an international boarder. It also makes certain that custody and access rights are respected among the contracting nation.

The Hague Abduction Convention is the primary civil law mechanism for parents seeking the return of their children from other treaty partner nations.  Countries that are party to the Convention have agreed to return a child who was habitually resident in one Convention country and who has been removed to or retained in another Convention country in violation of the left-behind parent’s custodial rights.  Once the child has been returned, any custody dispute can then be resolved in the courts of that jurisdiction. The Convention does not address who should have custody of the child; it addresses where the custody case should be heard.

The Hague Abduction Convention was concluded 25 October 1980 and entered into force between the signatories on 1 December 1983.

The primary intention of the Convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court. The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16.

As of February 2015, 93 states are party to the convention.

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