Domestic abuse and coercive control in expat relationships

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Domestic abuse and coercive control in expat relationships

“I had to leave my baby in Dubai and return to the UK”

July 12th 2023 saw a particularly important Expatability™ Chat Podcast episode go live. In this episode, I was honoured to talk with the amazing Roz Osbourne, the CEO and founder of GlobalARRK.

GlobalARRK is a small charity that specialises in helping stuck parents. This is a topic that I’ve supported and written about for years, since I first learned about the problem, so I was thrilled to be able to talk with Roz about something we both aim to do; to raise awareness of this issue, and to inform potential expats about it before they move overseas.

‘The GlobalARRK mission is to prevent international custody disputes and reduce their devastating impact on children and parents stuck in a foreign country by raising awareness and connecting parents to support services to meet their needs. GlobalARRK is the only charity specialising in helping stuck parents.’

What is a stuck parent?

So, let’s start with the obvious question – what exactly is a ‘stuck parent’?

A stuck parent is someone who can’t leave their host country. They’re not allowed to take their child home.

If you move overseas with your child, or have children while you live abroad, but then split up with your partner, you may not be allowed to return home with your child due to Hague Convention laws.

Immigration laws may also forbid you from staying in that country. So, you can’t stay in that country, and you can’t take your child out of that country. You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no happy ending.

You may have to leave your host country and return to your home country without your child.

Can you imagine how completely awful that would be? It almost doesn’t bear thinking about; and yet this is a truth for too many expats.

Many families move abroad and think that if it doesn’t work out, they can simply move back again.

This is not true.

If one parent wants the child to stay, the other parent must get permission from the local court to allow the child to leave. If you don’t get the proper permissions and take your child home anyway, you can be accused of International Child Abduction under The Hague Convention.

Local family court processes can be costly and can take many years.

Not only that, the Hague Convention law also automatically gives the ‘remaining’ parent full legal aid funding. While the parent who wants to leave, gets nothing. No funding, no representation, nothing.

This means the ‘taking parent’ (or the ‘escaping parent’), which is usually the mum, is not eligible for legal aid, whereas the other parent, who they call ‘left behind parent’, who they think of as the wronged parent, is entitled to automatic legal aid. So, in the courts, mums are unrepresented. While the fathers get the best lawyers

As if that wasn’t bad enough, 90% of stuck parents have experienced domestic violence and/or coercive control abroad and need support to find a safe place to stay with their child/ren and to navigate through complex legal systems in a country that is not their own.

The abusive partner can – and often does – use the Hague Convention law to continue their abuse, and exert their control over their ex-partner, by forbidding the child to be taken from them. This is purely an extension of their abuse as a form of control. They may not actually want to be the child’s main carer, they may be a danger to the child’s life or mental health, and in some cases, may even be in prison.

I can’t begin to explain how angry this makes me, and it’s quite difficult to write this in a way that will get the message across without me resorting to a massive rant.

And if you are one of the many expats moving to the Middle East, you are in an even more precarious position because of their male-oriented laws. Women’s rights are not at the top of their agenda there. Men have the ultimate power over everything, regardless of their nationality. Yes, even if you are both from, say, the UK, the man still has local rights.

One mum had to move back to Britain without her baby

She had to leave her baby in Dubai in the most horrific of circumstances. Even though they’re a British family, she couldn’t get out of the country with her baby; he put her on the no-flight list. She’s obviously going through absolute heartbreak now, having to live here without her baby.

But she had no choice. She wasn’t allowed to stay in Dubai as her visa was dependent on her husband. She had nowhere to live. She had no money. And he wouldn’t allow her to take her baby back home to the UK.

Sadly, this is not a one-off example.

Know before you go

Most parents have no idea that this law even exists at all. I certainly didn’t when I first moved overseas: it wasn’t until I began ExpatChild that I learned about it. So, the aim of this article and podcast episode is to continue to raise awareness of this potentially catastrophic ruling before you move overseas.

Many people move abroad for a better life, a better life for their family, for their children. But if your relationship is even slightly wobbly, you are going to find it incredibly difficult. Don’t move overseas thinking this will solve any problems you may have; it won’t. It will probably amplify them.


Know Before You Go: Detailing 5 of the essential topics you need to discuss with your partner before you move abroad.

With helpful conversation openers to help you get you started.


Is there anything you can do to protect against this issue before you go?

To a certain extent, yes. Before you even agree to a move abroad, you need to have some discussions about the ‘what ifs’. Yes, these discussions can be difficult as they can be seen as negative, doom-mongering perhaps. But you must have them.

Consider them a bit like a pre-nuptial agreement, a way of protecting yourself should the worst happen. Sure, these discussions can leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but they shouldn’t be too difficult to instigate in a mature, mutually respecting relationship.

If you are too scared, too nervous, too uncomfortable to start this conversation, you need to consider why that is.

In my opinion, this would be a huge red flag and you should consider if you really should be moving overseas with your partner in the first place. (Spoiler alert – no, you shouldn’t).

I agree that it is impossible to see into the future: you may have no idea that your partner has abusive tendencies. And people do change when they move overseas, and over time. But have the discussion you must.

What to ask in this conversation?

Start by voicing a whole load of scenarios, such as:

  • What would happen if one of us doesn’t like the new country?
  • What would happen if our child got sick and needed specialist medical care in our home country?
  • What would happen if one of us needs to go home to look after a family member?
  • What would happen if one of us had an affair and the other wants to go home?
  • What would happen if we split up?

Once you’ve had this discussion (well done, by the way! I know it’s tough) you need to visit a family lawyer and get those responses written down and made official.

To get a copy of my FREE eBook of details and conversation openers about this, click here.

Now, it’s important to note that this pre-agreement is not actually enforceable by law, (a bit like a pre-nup) BUT it does show your original, joint understandings, made in calmer times. The reason this paper wouldn’t be watertight in court, is because circumstances change and would be taken into account.

However, because you did have these discussions before you move, this may be enough to refer to and which may avoid the whole court issue in the first place.

Hague Convention – problem and misuse

The full name of this is, ‘The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ by the way – which is why we generally shorten it to simply ‘The Hague Convention’.

First created way back in 1980, in a completely different global climate, when there were far fewer expats as we recognise them today, the convention was created for a specific reason.

This out-of-date legislation was introduced originally to stop fathers taking their children abroad after a negative custody decision, which was what was happening quite a lot at the time.

So, particularly with mixed-culture relationships, and again in an abusive separation, some fathers would take their children back to their home country. Doing this, they effectively kidnapped their child to get away from the British court system.

The problem these days is that it’s rarely used in these situations anymore.

Who it is affecting is the primary carer mothers who are fleeing domestic violence and returning to their home country with their children to try to get to a place of safety.

Over 75% of Hague Convention cases involve a primary carer mother going home with her children. This figure can be found if you really dig around on their Hague Convention – GlobalARRK have done this on our behalf, as well as pointing out that this figure is from 2017 and in reality, is probably much higher; perhaps 85% – 90%.

And let me reiterate – this is the percentage of mothers who are involved in Hague Convention court cases.

This is overwhelmingly a problem for mothers who have been abused. Only 10%-15% are fathers.

Women, and their children, in abusive relationships are being failed by this process.


The abusive partner is misusing the Hague Convention law as a form of coercive control through the courts, purely for vindictive reasons.

It is court-approved abuse.

This needs to change.

All the signatories of the Hague Convention are meeting in October 2023. They meet rarely, only every 5 years or so, therefore it is vital that we get this petition for change in front of them this year.

GlobalARRK is working with other frontline charities around the world who are also supporting these ‘Hagued Mums’, in trying to raise awareness.

The signatories need to know that the convention is being misused and they must set up better systems to protect families in this situation, because currently it is failing.

It is failing the mums. It is failing the children.

[Edited Oct 10th 2023 – I will update this when I get more information]

If you find yourself stuck, how can you at get help?

Visa restrictions, unemployment, poverty, language barriers and loneliness can make life impossible for the now ‘stuck’ parent and child.

If you are stuck, if you are in an abusive expat relationship, if you need help, GlobalARRK can assist. Contact them in complete confidence here:  GlobalARRK Support

GlobalARRK have a long list of supportive organisations all over the world, and details of specialist lawyers. All the lawyers they work with offer a free consultation. So, even if you don’t have money, you can still get a free consultation from an expert lawyer.

Another key support system GlobalARRK have in place is quite literally a life-saver: mothers feel trapped in an abusive relationship because they can’t go home, and if they do leave, they can’t take the kids. So, they stay. They’re extremely vulnerable because they can’t see a way out.

There is an overwhelming feeling of isolation, that nobody understands the situation, and they’re too scared to say anything to anyone, even if they do have friends and confidants.

GlobalARRK have peer support groups where you can join an online chat group and meet other parents in the same situation as you. They also have a befriending process for regular calls with someone who completely understands your circumstances. You are not alone.

This genuine and understanding support has saved many lives because the isolation, abuse and fear has made these stuck parents deeply depressed, anxious and suicidal.

How YOU can help

Fix the systemic failures of the Hague Abduction Convention. Learn more about the problems here.

Help support the amazing and life-saving work that GlobalARRK does by making a donation. As a small charity, they get little to no funding, so any donation is gratefully received. Thank you.


Just to summarise what is a lot of information here:

Know before you go: Before you move abroad, know that if you split up, your ex-partner can block you from moving back home with your children. In some cases, immigration laws may also forbid you from staying in that country and you may have to leave your child behind and move back alone.

Be prepared: Have that conversation with your partner full of ‘what-if’ scenarios. If you’re scared of raising that discussion, you probably shouldn’t move abroad with them. It’s a sign you’re possibly in a toxic relationship. If you and your partner cannot agree on the ‘what ifs’ and you still choose to move, at least you will be going into the move with your eyes open.

The Hague Convention ruling mainly affects expat mums: Old statistics show over 75 % of Hague Convention cases are taken out by fathers against mothers. These mums have been forced to leave an abusive relationship overseas, while the fathers use the outdated Hague Convention law to continue their control by forcing the mum to go through a local family court. Which can take years. And a lot of money.

Oh, you should also know that the Hague Convention also automatically gives the ‘remaining’ parent full legal aid funding. While the parent who wants to leave, gets nothing.

Make a donation: click here to donate to GlobalARRK and their amazing work saving lives and helping stuck parents.

If you need help: Get in touch with GlobalARRK in complete confidence. Their website is here and their email address is

At this point, I am just going to drop this here – it’s looking like The Hague Convention favours abusive men.

(This will show me who reads the entire article 😉)

Let’s get this changed.

Further reading and listening:

Nobody tells you this about moving overseas with your kids

International child abduction: An overview

Expat parents and The Hague Convention 

Expatability™ Chat Podcast episode – Stuck Parents – and What to Know Before You Go

Need to talk 1-1 about your move and life overseas with someone who 'gets it'? Consider me your own, personal expat expert! I'm here for you.

Your one-stop-shop for a successful life abroad

Expatability Club

An expat community and advice hub where you’ll never feel alone or unsupported. With an Expat Expert in your pocket for real-time support.

Let's stay in touch!

Subscribe to my newsletter and be first to hear news and updates from Carole.

By subscribing you also agree to receive marketing emails from Carole Hallett Mobbs. You can opt-out of these emails at any time. My full privacy policy can be seen here: Privacy Policy

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want some personalised advice?

Find out how I can help you make your expat life a success!