What should I do if the other parent refuses to return my child?

What should I do if the other parent refuses to return my child?

Dr Maree Livermore
Founder & CEO

It is quite common for the care of children not to pass between parents in accordance with the usual arrangements, or even with court orders. There are many reasons why this happens. Sometimes, there is misunderstanding (“I thought we agreed Sunday night!”). Sometimes, it’s a practical issue (“I didn’t get the car back in time.”). And occasionally, yes, a parent may deliberately refuse to relinquish custody. If the other parent refuses to return your child, work through the following steps

The first thing is work out what is going on and why. But whether the situation is serious or otherwise, it is important that you try not to overreact. Despite that you might be very worried or angry, if you increase the concerns of the other parent they will be less likely to make good decisions.

Notwithstanding, if the child is at risk with the other parent, you should call the police. Unless there is a safety risk, however, and even if you have orders saying the child should be with you, the police will not be able to help you to recover the child.

Even if the other parent is genuinely withholding the child, de-escalation of the situation through talking and negotiation, possibly through family and friends, is likely to have the best and quickest result.

If dialogue fails and the child is still not returned, you may seek ‘recovery orders’ from the Federal Circuit and Family Court Australia as a heavy-hitting legal option. Alternatively, you could file a ‘contravention application’ with the Court if you have existing parenting orders. This might be the best course if you believe that the child is safe. If you have no idea where your child is you can also apply urgently for ‘location orders’.

For more information on what to do if the other parent refuses to return your child and Parenting agreements in Family Law, read Tribe’s Guide to Parenting Agreements.