It has been almost impossible to ignore the media circus surrounding the attempted child removal involving Brisbane mother, Sally Faulkner and the 60 Minutes television crew in Beirut, Lebanon.
Although the precise details of this matter remain unclear, it is known that Ms Faulkner travelled to Lebanon with a team from Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) and a television crew in an attempt to forcibly return her two children to Australia.
This was unsuccessful and instead resulted in Ms Faulkner, the CARI team and the 60 Minutes crew being arrested and charged with what has been reported as kidnapping, physical assault, hiding information and criminal conspiracy.
After nearly two weeks, Ms Faulkner’s former partner, Mr Elamine, allegedly agreed to a settlement by which Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes crew were released and which involved Ms Faulkner giving up her right to pursue further parenting proceedings in Australia.
However, the CARI team remained in detention and recently was denied bail by the Lebanese courts.
This story has left many parents asking – how did this happen and how do I prevent this happening to me? In short, the challenge arose because Lebanon is not a signatory to any of the treaties or agreements to which Australia is a party which deal with cross-border parenting issues.
It has been reported in the media that Mr Elamine took the children from Australia to Lebanon for a holiday but then refused to return them at the conclusion of the holiday. If that is true, then had Lebanon been a signatory to theConvention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, commonly known as the “Hague Convention”, there would have been mechanisms by which the Australian and Lebanese authorities could have sought court orders in Lebanon for the immediate return of the children to Australia. Unfortunately, Lebanon is not a party to that treaty and so that option was not available.
Another protective measure for those navigating an international co-parenting arrangement is to obtain orders in Australia which clearly define when children are to spend time in each of their parents’ home countries. Depending on which other country is involved, such orders may then be enforced overseas through a bilateral treaty or theConvention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-Operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, commonly known as the ‘Child Protection Convention’.
Unfortunately, Lebanon is not a party to any bilateral treaty with Australia or to the Child Protection Convention, meaning that Australian court orders have no legal effect in Lebanon.
Consequently, in Ms Faulkner’s case, once her children were in Lebanon, the only legal avenue open to have the children returned to her care was to commence court proceedings in Lebanon.
To prevent this happening to you, it is important that if your partner lives overseas and your children are to spend time with them there, that you obtain legal advice about whether that country is a signatory to key treaties or agreements and what your options would be if the children were retained. There are measures that can be taken to enforce parenting arrangements once children leave Australia, but many are only effective if taken before the children depart Australia
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.