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Moving or travelling with children overseas

There are laws about moving children, finding missing children, and recovering (returning) children from overseas. Some of these laws are complicated and you may need to take urgent action.

Australia has agreements with many other countries to prevent children being wrongfully removed from the country where they usually live.

If you want to take them overseas and the other parent disagrees, get legal advice. 

If they’ve been taken overseas or you think they’re about to be taken overseas without your consent, get urgent legal advice.

If your children are in someone else's care and you think they may be in danger, contact the police. In an emergency, call 000. If your children have already been taken overseas without your consent contact International Social Service Australia for urgent legal advice. Call 1300 657 843

Taking children overseas

There are laws about taking children overseas. If you want to take your children overseas, you should try and reach an agreement with the other parent. A family dispute resolution service  may be able to help.

If you can’t agree, you’ll have to apply to the court for permission to take them overseas. The court may allow them to travel if it believes it’s in their best interests. It will consider the risk of the children not returning to Australia, and it may impose conditions, such as paying a security, to make sure they come back.

If there’s a parenting order in place, or an application for a parenting order before a court, it’s an offence to move the children away from Australia without the written agreement of everyone covered by the current order, or any further court orders. You may go to jail for this offence. There are rules about what kind of written agreements the court will accept. Get legal advice.

Australia has agreements with other countries to prevent people removing children from the country where they usually live. If you take them overseas without the other parent’s consent, you could be ordered to return them under one of these agreements. 

There are things you can do to prevent your children from being taken overseas. If you think they’re going to be taken without your consent, get urgent legal advice.

Passports

If the children don’t already have passports, you may need the other parent to sign the application—it must be signed by both parents. If you don’t want the other parent to take the children overseas, you can refuse to sign the passport application.

If the other parent won’t sign the application and you think they’re being unreasonable, you can apply to the court for the passport to be issued without their consent.

If you think there might be a passport application without your agreement, you can ask the Passports Office to put the children’s names on a child alert list—valid for up to 12 months. This doesn’t need to be done by the court—you can do this. 

If the children’s names are on the ‘child alert’ list, the Passport Office will contact you to discuss the application if the other parent makes an application without your agreement. An alert means there will be special scrutiny of the application. It doesn’t guarantee an Australian passport won’t be issued and it won’t prevent a foreign passport being issued if the children are eligible.

Your children may be eligible for a passport from another country (eg if they have dual citizenship or nationality), but these countries may have different requirements for issuing passports. You should contact the relevant embassy if you’re concerned about your children travelling on a passport from another country.

Preventing children being taken overseas

If you think your children are at risk of being moved overseas, contact the Australian Federal Police and the family law courts, and get urgent legal advice. If there’s an emergency situation you can access court services and the police quickly. 
Call 02 6126 7777 for the Family Law Watchlist or recovery and arrest warrants.

If you think your children have been taken overseas without your consent:

  • report it to your local police
  • get legal advice—for example—you'll need to apply for a court order to place your child on the Family Law Watchlist. If your child hasn't left Australia, it may be possible to stop them being taken. The  Australian Federal Police may be able to help.     

If the children already have passports, you can apply to the court for an urgent injunction (restraining order) to prevent the other parent (or other person) taking them overseas. You can also apply for their passports to be handed in to the court.

Returning children who have been taken overseas without consent

If your children have already been taken overseas without your consent contact International Social Service Australia for urgent legal advice. Call 1300 657 843

This service gives free legal advice and support to families affected by international child abduction including:

Related publications:

International parental child abduction—Legal Assistance Service (PDF, 344KB)—(International Social Service Australia)

International parental child abduction (PDF, 346KB)—(International Social Service Australia)

If your children have been taken to a country not covered by the Hague Convention or other international treaties you may need to get private legal advice in that country. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) may be able to give limited consular help. Contact them on 1300 555 135 (24-hour consular service).

Some financial assistance may be available to help you with legal costs for engaging a lawyer overseas for family law matters.

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s department has a range of information and resources to help you.
This is a complex area of law and you should get legal advice and representation.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice:

  • if your children have been removed from Australia without your agreement—contact International Social Service Australia (ISS) on 1300 657 843 for help.
  • if your children have passports and you believe someone is trying to take them out of Australia
  • about the types of written agreements the court will accept before children can be taken overseas
  • to apply to court for your child's passport because the other parent refuses to sign the application
  • if the other parent wants you to return your children from Australia to the country where they used to live.

Get legal advice

If your children have already been taken overseas without your consent contact International Social Service Australia for urgent legal advice. Call 1300 657 843.

We may give legal advice if your children are still in Australia, but are at risk of being removed without your consent.  

If you need a specialist private lawyer the Queensland Law Society may be able to help.  

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

Queensland Police can help if you or your children are at risk of harm.

Australian Federal Police maintains the airport watch list for children at risk of being removed from Australia.

Passports Office (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) can place children’s names on the child alert list if there are concerns an application for their passport may be made without both parents’ consent.

Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department  maintains a list of countries participating in the Hague Convention.

Consular Representatives - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  —gives a guide to consular representation by foreign governments in Australia, including contact details for accredited representatives with consular status.

Family Relationship Advice Line gives information about the family law system in Australia.

Family Relationship Centres give information, referrals, dispute resolution and advice on parenting after separation.

Family law courts—deals with family law cases. Court forms and information on family court processes are available online.

Related links and information
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