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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Passport applications and child abduction

Child abduction is a rare but serious crime. It happens when a child is taken out of the country without consent (often by one parent against the wishes of the other). If your child is at risk, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) may be able to help.

The law on taking a child out of the country

It is a crime for anyone 'connected with a child' under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without 'appropriate consent'. This is set out in the Child Abduction Act 1984.

To explain:

  • the people ‘connected with a child’ are the child’s parents, guardians and people with a residence order or who have parental responsibility
  • ‘appropriate consent’ is the consent of the mother, the father (if he has parental responsibility), the guardian and anyone with a residence order or parental responsibility, or the leave (permission) of the court

Fathers and parental responsibility

In general, a child's father has automatic parental responsibility only if he is, or has been, married to the child's mother. However, a father also has parental responsibility if he jointly registered the birth with the child’s mother on or after:

  • 15 April 2023 in Northern Ireland
  • 1 December 2023 in England and Wales
  • 4 May 2023 in Scotland

The father may also be granted parental responsibility by the court or by written agreement with the child’s mother.

You can find more detailed information on parental responsibility and what it means in ‘Parental rights and responsibilities’.

Residence orders

Someone with a residence order may take or send the child out of the UK without consent for up to a month at a time.

A residence order is issued under Section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989. It confirms who a child is to live with. The person named in the order automatically gets parental responsibility if they did not already have it, but not sole parental responsibility. This means they cannot:

  • take the child out of the country for more than one month
  • change the child’s name without the consent of everyone with parental responsibility (as explained above) or a court order

How the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) can help prevent child abduction

Normally, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will issue a passport for a child if the application is made by:

  • either parent (provided the parent making the application has parental responsibility, as explained above)
  • another person with parental responsibility

If you have a court order that forbids a passport being issued without your or the court's consent, you should tell IPS. In these cases, IPS will not issue a passport for the child if the application comes from anyone else claiming to have parental responsibility.

The following types of court order can be used:

  • a prohibited steps order made under the Children Act 1989 or the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • an interdict made under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
  • an order confirming that the child's removal from the country is against the wishes of the court
  • a residence order under any of the three Acts above, which has been made in your favour
  • an order awarding you custody of the child or care and control over the child
  • an order stating that you must give your consent before the child can be removed from the country
  • an order upholding your objections to the child having a passport or leaving the country

If you don't have a court order, you can still ask IPS not to issue a passport for your child. You must be the child’s mother. Both of the following must also be true:

  • you have not been married to the child's father
  • the father has not acquired parental responsibility

More help and information

To ask IPS not to issue a passport for your child, you should first call the Passport Adviceline on 0300 222 0000.

You can get more detailed information about child abduction from Reunite. Reunite is a charity that gives advice on dealing with parental child abduction and international custody disputes. They also offer a mediation service for parents. You can call them on 01162 556 234 between 9.30 am and 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday. For emergency out-of-hours contact details, go to their website.

If your child has been abducted

If your child has already been taken overseas, you should call the FCO Child Abduction Section on 0207 008 0878. Out of hours, call 0207 008 1500. For full details about what the FCO can and cannot do, see ‘International child abduction’.

You can also get advice from the International Child Abduction Contact Unit (ICACU) at the Official Solicitor’s Office (part of the Ministry of Justice). ICACU’s phone number is 020 7911 7045/7047. The line is open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.

Additional links

Need passport advice?

For help, call the IPS Passport Adviceline on 0300 222 0000.

The Adviceline is open:
- 8.00 am to 8.00 pm Monday to Friday
- 9.00 am to 5.30 pm weekends and public holidays

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