Redress Risk Management (post until May 31/19)
Family

Child abduction fears when parents are from different countries

It’s important to identify and act on indicators of a potential child abduction by a parent involved in a high-conflict divorce — allowing a court to make emergency rulings to secure a child’s safety if necessary, says Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Daudlin.

The threat of a child being removed from the country is something the principal of Daudlin Law encounters on a regular basis, she says. While child abduction can occur in any separation, the risk is heightened in cases involving parents from different countries of origin — which make up the bulk of her client base.

“There is nothing more terrifying for a parent than the threat of abduction of a child,” Daudlin tells AdvocateDaily.com. “So it’s important to be alert to the indicators of a potential abduction, and not ignore any direct or indirect threat.”

It’s more common for a child to be abducted by their own parent than by a stranger, she adds. Daudlin points to RCMP figures indicating that of the 41,342 reports of missing children in Canada in 2014, 122 were taken by a parent while 29 were related to a stranger abduction. 

The primary indicator is often a person’s previous behaviour around returning the child at the appointed time, she says.

“Even if it’s been only for a few hours, or if a parent or individual refuses to return a child, that may be an indicator they’re testing the waters,” Daudlin says. “They want to see what kind of power and control they have.”

Secondly, she says another sign is a history of a power imbalance or a controlling relationship.

“Often in my cases, I have a parent who says, ‘The other parent promised if I ever left them, they would take the child back to our home country,’” Daudlin says. The threat becomes even more frightening to her clients when the spouse warns they may take the child to a country where laws are substantially different than in Canada.

Daudlin, whose practice deals with many victims of domestic violence, both male and female, says she is immediately alerted to the possibility of a child’s removal if an ex-spouse makes threats of harm to a parent or child.

“I’ve had situations where a client has said, ‘If the other parent takes the child, I will reconcile to be with them,’” she says. “We have to look at any situation of domestic abuse and consider carefully if abduction will be part and parcel of that alleged abuse.”

Another sign can come from conversations with the children, Daudlin says. Sometimes the child may hint that a parent has promised a home in a new city or that changes coming when they get older.

Drastic lifestyle changes, including the sale of property, quitting a job or closing bank accounts may also point to a plan to leave, she says. “It doesn’t always involve the abduction of a child, but it can.”

An unfavourable court order is yet another indicator, Daudlin says.

“People do some pretty incredible things when pushed to the edge of their emotional tolerance,” she says. “There can be an emotional or mental break.”

Finally, Daudlin points to lack of ties to the area as another possible scenario where abduction is possible — particularly when combined with other factors.

“If they’re not from the area and they don’t have a job, friends or family, they may feel like they need to go back to where their support systems are, and bring their children with them,” she says.

While indicators may point to a possible abduction, Daudlin says it’s important to note they may not be thinking about taking the children out of the country.

“Emotions run high, and people say things they don’t necessarily mean,” she says. “You have to use your discretion.”

Daudlin says she believes that almost anyone can come to an amicable solution, no matter how much a relationship has soured. But when “there is blood on the floor or wheels on the tarmac” it’s essential to move fast, she says.

A lawyer can bring an emergency or ex parte motion to ensure the child will not be removed from the city or country, Daudlin says. This requires a high threshold since the other party is not provided notice. Police reports and evidence of domestic abuse can help the case, she adds, noting that schools and daycare facilities should be informed immediately that an abduction may be attempted.

“Sadly, there are cases of abduction across the country, from people of various means and cultural backgrounds,” Daudlin says. “As a family lawyer in a multicultural society, the fear of abduction by a client, whether perceived or actual, is something I must pay attention to.”

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