Nobody tells you this about moving overseas with your kids

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Expect the best, but plan for the worst

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

Often families receive advice on moving abroad from the government, migration agents and TV programmes. However there is one thing that NOBODY tells you about moving abroad with your children (and it’s probably the most important thing!):

If you end up separating with your partner, or if one of you wants to stay and the other wants to go home… you might never be allowed to return home with your children.

Yes – it sounds completely crazy but this is actually happening to thousands of expat parents all around the world.

The ‘habitual residence’ of your child shifts to the new country

International law states: when you arrive in a new country with the intention of staying, the ‘habitual residence’ of your child shifts to the new country. So unless the other parent gives permission to take the children back home, you will need to apply to the LOCAL court to override this.

  • It doesn’t matter if all the family are of the same nationality, or how long you’ve been abroad.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are fleeing domestic violence and poverty.
  • It doesn’t even matter if the other parent is in prison and you are the sole carer! By law you must stay put and wait for the local court to decide if you can go home with the children.

How long does this process take? Usually a relocation application takes around 2-5 years – so if your children were not very accustomed to living in the country at the time you applied to the court the problem is that they might well be by the time it comes to court.

Being ‘stuck’ in a foreign country is tough – being a single mum is hard enough in your own country with family and friends to prop you up. But living thousands of miles from that support and possibly without income from employment can be devastating. Right now there are mums squatting in empty houses, living in caravans and sleeping on neighbour’s floors just because they are too poor to stay in that foreign country but can’t bear to lose their children. It’s heart-breaking.

Child abduction

What if you just take your children home? Many parents do just take their children home – they think that as the primary or sole carer they can unilaterally decide to leave the ‘new’ foreign country and go back home. What can happen then is sometimes a nasty shock: The other parent can invoke ‘The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction 1980. Basically this means you stand accused of child abduction. You would find yourself in a high court with very limited defences and would have to return your children to the country of new ‘habitual residence’.

Some parents have even been to prison for child abduction for this ‘offence’.

What can parents do to protect themselves?

Before making the move overseas discuss all the possible ‘what if’ scenarios (here are a few to get you started):

  • What if one of us doesn’t like living in the new country (but the other does?)
  • What if we split up?
  • What if one of us/or the kids gets ill and wants to go home?
  • What if one of us has an affair and the other wants to go home?

The key question to ask is: Will we both return home OR will one be able to return home with the children?

In addition, how long will the agreement be valid for? (We would imagine two years is a good amount of time to see if you like the new country before committing.)

Know before you go

It is VITAL to make these decisions BEFORE moving abroad, and then to attend mediation with an experienced International Family Lawyer to formally record the decisions.

Currently there is no ‘pre- migration contract’ in existence, but ‘GlobalArrk’ are working to produce one. It would work a bit like a ‘Pre-Nup’, so wouldn’t be 100% watertight in court, however it is a LOT better than nothing.

If you and your partner cannot agree on the ‘What Ifs’, at least you will be going into the move with open eyes. Perhaps you might reconsider moving altogether.

As one of our ‘Expat Stuck Mums’ said recently,

“There’s a lot to be said for staying put. You’ve got your family, your friends, your job and you know where you are”

By GlobalArrk

Further reading: 

FREE eBook to help you start this conversation

5 essential topics to discuss with your partner before you move abroad

Download this FREE eBook to discover how to make sure you have the best expat experience before you even leave home.



Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast interview with Roz Osborne, CEO and Founder of GlobalARRK  

Stuck Parents – and What to Know Before You Go

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    1. You can’t, you still have to apply and the likely hood is that the family court, by the time you eventually get there and have spent thousands, will say it’s in the child’s best interest to stay where they are and have both parents. Regardless of wether both parents can afford to stay in the host country. It’s a family court and they deal with what is best for the family.

  1. Hi Carol, I was wondering is The Hague still applicable if the child was born in the U.K, has a British passport and is listed under the NHS?

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  4. Dear Carole, I was looking for this kind of information and found it all on your site! Thank you so much! I would like to write a similar post on my site (UtesExpatLounge), where I provide support for internationally living families and link back to your posts about the subject. I hope this is ok? Or you could write a guest-post instead? Please let me know. This is so important !
    Very kind regards, Ute

    1. Hi Ute,
      This article was written by the Expat Stuck Parents’ team – web link details above. However, I’m sure they would appreciate it if you spread the word about their very specialised work. And yes, happy for you to link back here 🙂 but I’m afraid I don’t have time right now to write a guest post.

  5. Hi Both,
    We are trying to help all stuck parents – mums and dads, same nationality or different, abducted or just plain old stuck. We mums do what we can… and thankfully offers of help and connection are flooding in now. Perceptions are changing and joining together we hope to change The Hague.

  6. Please, also don’t forget about the mums who met someone while they were traveling or working abroad. I travelled from the UK to USA, met someone, fell in love, had a baby, he was viciously violent. I was stuck in USA. Won custody in courts. Met someone else (in Texas) during my healing process, we were together 6 mths. We have a child. I have spent 6 years trying to get back home to UK. My child from that 1st relationship and I didn’t need to be in TX but couldn’t leave my youngest behind. Her dad finally consented last year to return home to UK. A month after return he filed full custody in Texas and back to back charges of Hague abduction in UK. TX judge denied me the right to submit my evidence. Hague judge denied me oral testimony. Then dad won both cases. We are being returned this Thurs 21/5. Judge looked me in the eye and said “you will have to decide to leave your other child behind”.
    Please also bring awareness to the mum’s who innocently took a gap year to travel and are stuck with precious babies in foreign countries in intolerable circumstances fighting to get home to loved ones.

    1. Oh my goodness, what a terrible time you have had, Hope. I’m so sorry and do so hope you have a happy ending some time.

      I’m sure nobody is forgotten by Expat Stuck Mums, but the amount of information we could fit into one article is limited. Please do visit their site and see if there is anything you can discover that might help you.

      I feel inadequate to say any more to you at this terrible time, but my thoughts are with you.

  7. Just to comment, it’s dads also, not just mums!.. True, fewer of us in this specific situation, but none the less it affects dads also!.. I have been stuck for three years and have just finally been granted my request to return to the UK with my son!.. I had to sacrifice my home, business and my family has spent over €100,000!

    1. Michael,
      I am so sorry to hear of your awful journey but am pleased you have finally been granted time to spend with your son.

      I mentioned this to the group, Expat Stuck Mums, and they are looking into a possible name change.

      Wishing you all the best.

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