Important Features of the Hague Abduction Convention - Why the Hague Convention Matters
The Hague Abduction Convention is a treaty that many countries, including the United States, have joined.
The purposes of the Convention are to protect children from the harmful effects of international abduction by a parent by encouraging the prompt return of abducted children to their country of habitual residence, and to organize or secure the effective rights of access to a child. The idea is that custody and visitation matters should generally be decided by the proper court in the country of the child’s habitual residence.
The Convention focuses on the child, providing a shared civil remedy among partner countries.
Why might I need the Convention if I already have a custody order?
- U.S. court orders may not be recognized in other countries;
- Each country is a sovereign nation. Sovereign nations cannot interfere with each other's legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement;
- Generally every country only has jurisdiction within its own territory and over people present within its borders.
The Convention provides a legal mechanism for countries to work together on international abduction cases, despite these challenges.
- Important features of the Convention include:
- Whether a child should be returned to his/her habitual residence, or whether access/visitation rights exist, does not depend on the immigration status/or nationality of a child or his or her parents.
- Each country that has ratified the Convention is required to have a Central Authority. The Central Authority is the main point of contact for parents and other governments involved in abduction cases.
- The Central Authority is supposed to help locate abducted children, help encourage amicable solutions to parental abduction cases, and help process requests for return of children.
- Any documents submitted to the Central Authority are admissible in courts in partner countries without the formalities often required by courts for admitting documents from foreign countries.
- A parent does not necessarily need to present a custody order to prove that his or her custodial rights were violated when the child was taken from his or her country; the Convention allows proof according to the laws of the child’s habitual residence, often by showing proof of parenthood or marriage.
Conditions to Filing a Hague Application for Return -- What kinds of cases fall under the Hague Abduction Convention
The Convention does not apply to every international parental child abduction case. In order to request a return of a child under the Convention, you must show:
- That your child was habitually resident in one Convention country, and was wrongfully removed to or retained in another Convention country ;
- The removal or retention of your child is considered wrongful if it was in violation of your custodial rights, and you were exercising them at the time of the removal or retention, or you would have been exercising them but for the removal or retention.
- The Convention must have been in force between the two countries when the wrongful removal or retention occurred (the dates are different for every country); (Note: In many instances, when a country ratifies the Convention, it is not automatically partners with all of the other countries who have ratified the Convention. Countries must generally formally accept another county’s accession to the Convention under the terms described in the Convention before a treaty partnership is created.
- The child is under the age of 16 at the time of filing of the application.
Exceptions to a Country’s Obligation to Return a Child
Under the Convention, a country may refuse to return an abducted child or grant access to the child if one of the following exceptions apply:
- There is a grave risk that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm or otherwise placed in an intolerable situation in his or her country of habitual residence;
- The child objects to being returned and has reached an age and degree of maturity at which the court can take account of the child's views; or
- The return would violate the fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms of the country where the child is being held.
Note: Interpretation of these exceptions varies from country to country.
Access or visitation: Partners to the Convention also agree to respect the rights of custody and access/visitation from other partner countries. You can apply through the Convention to establish or enforce your access/visitation rights to your children living in other partner countries.
Filing a Hague Application
Hague Applications can be filed in abduction cases involving countries where the Hague Abduction Convention is in force with the United States (see list below).
For abductions FROM the U.S., see our Filing a Hague Application page for more information.
For abductions TO the U.S., see our Filing a Hague Application page for more information.
Office of Children's Issues at the U.S. Department of State
Country officers are available to speak with you Monday - Friday, 8:15 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. For assistance with an abduction in progress or any emergency situation that occurs after normal business hours, on weekends, or federal holidays, please call toll free at 1-888-407-4747. See all contact information.