Global family disputes on rise

5-June-2013 Family Law By Simone Green

In recent years, the number of international family disputes has significantly increased. As a result, the number of international family law cases coming before the courts has also jumped dramatically.

The increase in the breakdown of marital relationships, together with the increasing frequency of intercultural marriages and the accessibility of international travel have been identified as factors contributing to increasing rates of international parental child abduction. International Social Service Australia says the high rate of inter-country marriages in Australia suggests that “where children eventuate, following relationship conflict, separation or divorce, one partner may consider returning to his or her homeland, or make the return to Australia”.

Statistical data about international parental child abduction to and from Australia indicates that, in 2008:

  • there was a 74 per cent increase from 2003 in the number of applications for the return of children under the Hague Convention;
  • the largest number of applications concerned abductions to or from New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom;
  • there was a judicially ordered return rate of 51 per cent (higher than the global average of 46 per cent).

Child recovery Australia states that more than 250 children every year are abducted by a parent or other family member into or out of Australia. Around 50 per cent involve failure of a parent to return a child/children after an authorised visit or stay.

Australia is a signatory to the Hague Child Protection Convention, which provides for international cooperation between the 38 Convention countries to recognise and enforce protective measures (such as court orders) for children. Australia also has bilateral agreements with Egypt and Lebanon. The Attorney-General’s Department is Australia’s central processing agency for applications to return abducted children through the Hague Convention arrangements.

The Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales also helps solve some of the practical aspects of a case involving two countries. It seeks to assist judges from different jurisdictions to communicate with each other to resolve a case. The Office deals with child abduction, adoption and forced marriage and offers advice to judges and lawyers acting in international disputes, as well as negotiating with judges in other countries.

For example, a judge in country A may want to know how quickly an issue can be listed in country B or the judge in country B may want information as to the law or the progress of the proceedings in country A.

Australia has a great relationship with the Office and the Office receives excellent levels of assistance from Australia.

Cases are referred to the Office in two instances:

  • Where a need arises for direct communication or judicial collaboration between Judges from England and Wales and another jurisdiction; and/or
  • Where a judge needs advice and assistance relating to an international family law matter.

While Australian authorities have agreements in place to expedite legal processes in a large number of countries, there still remains much to do to speed up the reunion of families who have been illegally separated.

Streeterlaw has experience dealing with complex family law disputes and can offer valuable advice to anyone facing child custody issues. Please contact Streeterlaw for advice on 8197 0105 or by email at

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