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;

The Convention provides a framework for countries to work together in specific ways to resolve international abduction cases.

  • Important features of the Convention include:
    • Each country that has ratified or acceded to 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 generally has the responsibility to help locate abducted children, to help encourage amicable solutions to parental abduction cases, and help faciliate the safe return of children as appropriate. 
    • Any documents submitted to the Central Authority as part of the application 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.
    • 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. 

What kinds of cases fall under the Hague Abduction Convention?

Filing a case under the Convention does not guarantee that your child will be returned. To obtain the return of your child, through a Hague proceeding, you must first be able to demonstrate:

  • 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 those rights 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 accedes to the Convention, it is not automatically partners with all of the other countries who have ratified or acceded to the Convention.  Countries must 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. 

Defenses to the Petition for Return of a Child

Under the Convention, a court may deny return of an abducted child if one of the following defenses apply:

  • There is a grave risk that the child’s return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation;
  • The child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which the court can take account of the child's views; or
  • More than one year has passed since the wrongful removal or retention occurred and the child has become settled in his or her new environment.
  • The party seeking return consented to or subsequently acquiesced to the child’s removal or retention.
  • The return would violate the fundamental principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country where the child is being held.
  • The party seeking return was not actually exercising rights of custody at the time of the wrongful removal or retention;

Note: Interpretation of these exceptions varies from country to country.

Access or visitation: Partners to the Convention also agree to promote the peaceful enjoyment of visitation/access rights of parents in 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.