Australia: 60 Minutes in hot water - What you need to know about child recovery orders

The 60 Minutes news team has recently been in the news headlines for all the wrong reasons after travelling overseas with a mother to try and recover Australian children removed by their father. The mother and the 60 Minutes crew may have been better served by seeking to implement a recovery order through our International Agreements.

A recovery order is a Court order requiring that a child be returned to a parent; a person who has a parenting order that states the child lives with them, spends time with them or communicates with them; or a person who has parental responsibility for the child. A recovery order is usually a last resort when a parent (or other relevant person) refuses to return a child.

The order can authorise or direct a person or persons, such as police officers, to take appropriate action to find, recover and deliver a child to one of the people above. It can also provide directions about the day-to-day care of the child until they are returned or delivered.
A recovery order can also prohibit someone removing or taking possession of the child again, authorising their arrest (without warrant) if they remove or take possession of the child.

You can apply for a recovery order if you are a:

  • Person who the child lives with, spends time with or communicates with, as stated in a parenting order
  • Person who has parental responsibility for the child in a parenting order
  • Grandparent of the child, or
  • Person concerned with the care, welfare and development of the child. For example, the child lives or spends time with you but it isn't covered by a parenting order.

To receive recovery orders you need to file an application with the Family Court of Australia or Federal Circuit Court of Australia, together with a supporting Affidavit which sets out:

  • Evidence of your relationship with the child and their care arrangements prior to them not being returned
  • Details of the child's living arrangements
  • Details of any previous Court Orders involving the child (including Apprehended Violence Orders if appropriate)
  • Any concerns you have about the child's safety whilst in the care of the other person.

As with all other matters relating to the care arrangements for your child, the Court's main consideration will be the best interests of the child, including whether there is a risk of harm to the child.

In the event that the Court makes an order for the return of the child, it will usually Order that the person withholding the child return them (this scenario usually causes the least disruption to the child). However, in situations where the party is unwilling to return them, responsibility for locating and returning the child will be assigned to the Australian Federal Police and any relevant state authorities.

International Recovery Orders

If your child has been taken from Australia without consent, or hasn't been returned to Australia within the agreed timeframe, you should seek immediate legal advice and contact the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department for assistance.

Australia is party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which seeks to protect children from being wrongfully removed to, or kept in another country, and outlines procedures for their prompt return.

Simply, what this means is that Australia has an agreement with some countries to return abducted children to their usual country of residence. It also provides assistance to parents to contact or access their children overseas.

The Australian Central Authority in the Attorney-General's Department is responsible for administering the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and may be able to assist you to recover your child if they have been taken to a country that is a member of the Hague Convention.

Returning to the 60 Minutes team, although Lebanon isn't a member of the Hague Convention, Australia does have a bilateral agreement on child welfare with the country (we also have one with Egypt) which sets out a pathway for Australian authorities to seek the return of children removed to it.

Therefore, it's always best to seek assistance in the first instance, rather than taking matters into your own hands which can result, as in this current case, in you and others being charged with criminal offences overseas.

If you have concerns about your child being removed from Australia, there are steps you can take to prevent it. To read more about this please refer to our Airport Watch List Orders blog.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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