New laws to deal with international child abduction
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, has announced the Government will introduce new measures to strengthen Australia's laws that deal with international parental child abduction.
Mr McClelland said the package of measures will include new criminal offences under the Family Law Act, extending the coverage of existing offences, allowing the family law courts to stop child support payments for parents who have abducted their child overseas and new information gathering powers for courts to locate children abducted from Australia.
The proposed changes announced include:
- Allowing the Family Law Courts to suspend child support payments for parents who abduct their children overseas to both Hague and non-Hague signatory countries, where they are satisfied it is in the best interests of the child;
- New criminal offences under the Family Law Act to include the wrongful retention of a child overseas with a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment (currently it is only an offence to remove a child overseas);
- Extending the coverage of the offences to include where a parent attends, or has been invited to attend, family dispute resolution, as well as if an application for parenting orders has been filed with the family law courts;
- Removing potential barriers for foreign courts to order the return of children to Australia by providing the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with the ability to give an undertaking that prosecution will not be pursued if a child is returned to Australia;
- Greater powers for the Australian Family Law Courts to require individuals or entities to provide information to the Commonwealth Central Authority (CCA) to assist in locating children wrongfully removed from or retained outside Australia; and
- Adding defences to the offences including fleeing from violence and protecting children from imminent harm.
Consistent with the recommendations of the Family Law Council, a range of exceptions will apply to the discretion of the Courts to suspend child support:
Where the person applying to the Family Law Courts was not actually exercising rights of custody to the child at the time of the child's removal from or retention outside Australia;
Where the person applying consented or subsequently acquiesced to the child being removed from or retained outside Australia.