Don't know where the child(ren) is(are)

Sometimes a parent comes home to find that their ex and children have gone, they don't know where and family members who might know won't help. The key thing is not to panic or worry about this as courts can usually find their whereabouts. The earlier you seek the support of the court to establish their whereabouts the better. 

My ex and children have disappeared 

It’s a big shock to come home from work or a few days away, to find your children and partner have disappeared. 

Your first reaction is disbelief. You think there may be some mistake or there has been a robbery or kidnap, so you ring round you friends and ask the neighbours. You contact your partner's family and when they are evasive you start to realise. 

The next stage is anger. You start to piece together the last few months and days and start to blame yourself for not seeing the writing on the wall. This has been planned all along. You should have recognised the clues and put 2 and 2 together. You are angry at yourself and angry at your partner. 

You start to rail at the people you think knew all along but remained silent. You accuse friends and family of being in on the subterfuge. 

You check your joint bank account to find it has been emptied and your kid’s passports and favourite toys have gone. You are now convinced she/he has abducted your children. 

This scenario is almost always the experience of fathers. Mothers have the advice, resources and encouragement to plan a family exit that fathers simply do not have. 

What can I do?

Contact the police and tell them all the details. If you are worried your partner may take the children abroad. Tell them about your concern and tell them you want a ‘ports alert’. Do not be fobbed off with the idea you should wait a few days to see if they come back. It may be too late by then. If your children have two passports make sure the police are aware of this too. Take photos and passports with you if you have them. 

You may find the police are able to tell you your wife and children are safe, but will not tell where they are living. This is more often than not because they are in a Refuge. This is a safe house for victims of domestic abuse. There are many hundreds of places made available by women's charities for mothers and children who turn up and allege they are homeless due to domestic abuse. They will be believed and given assistance to keep your children away from you. They will be helped to find free legal advice, apply for benefits, apply for housing and if required UK passports and the right to remain in the UK if that is necessary. This makes it very difficult to track them down to talk about the future care of the children. Even if you have phone numbers and email addresses mothers will be advised not to reply and wait till the father goes to court. The police will advise you to go to seek legal advice. This is good advice in these circumstances. Your first decision should be to contact FNF. 

Next apply for an urgent, without notice Prohibitive Steps Order to prevent your ex removing the children from their school or the country. This can be done on a C100 form which also allows you to apply for a Child Arrangements Order which FNF suggest you to do at the same time. This will cost you nothing more than the court fees... £232 (since September 2021) or, if you are unemployed, or on a low wage you can get legal aid which will pay this fee for you. To receive this, you will need to complete an EX160 form too  Attend the court the next day to obtain your PSO. 

If you don't want your exto know where you are living you can complete a C4 form at no extra cost. 

If you are applying on-line you will find all the above application forms are included in the single application. 

For those fathers who fear their children may have gone, or planning to go abroad the court application is essential. Other helpful information can be found on the Reunite website, a specialist child abduction based charity at http://www.reunite.org. 

What happens next? 

You have to make some difficult decisions. 

  • Is my relationship retrievable? 
  • How can I get to see my kids? 
  • Can I afford to keep the family home going? 
  • Where can I get advice? 

If your ex contacts you it is easy to let your anger overwhelm you. This will have significant negative consequences when you get to court so remain calm. Keep your conversation about the kids. Do not talk about relationship issues, money (other than to offer to pay for the kids) or friends or relatives. Just say you’re happy to talk about other matters but let’s let things cool down for a bit and sort out the kids first. Simply don’t answer bad questions, taunts or allegations. Change the subject to the kids and say these issues are best talked about face to face, not on the phone.  

Never discuss court matters or make disparaging comments about your ex in earshot of the children. Never talk about your 'rights' or anything that is not about what is best for the children. Assume that anything negative or not child-focused may be used in court against you in an adversarial system where your ex may wish to paint you in a bad light. Remember that family courts are there to work out what is in the best interests of the children and not in your best interests. If you remain calm and keep your attention on their welfare, without anything negative about your ex, it will stand you in good stead.  

If you find talking to your ex difficult you could propose mediation. Do this by email or text. 

It's easy to start begging too, especially if your ex says “You can see the kids if you …….”. Be prepared to resist this but not on principle. You can negotiate. In the final analysis time spent with your children in the early stages after separation, when they are confused and missing you... is worth its weight in gold. Not just for the emotional support you both give each other, but, if all else fails as evidence in your Child Arrangements Order Hearing, so keep evidence (pictures, tickets, receipts etc. and a diary) of your time with the children. 

Contact FNF as soon as possible for ongoing guidance and support.

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