The Hague Convention prevents a spouse from running away to another country with your children
Imagine, for a moment, that after having gone through a divorce with your expatriate or Singaporean spouse, you now have custody, as well as care and control of your young child. But one day at work, you receive word that your ex-spouse has taken your child out of Singapore without your knowledge or consent, and you don’t know if you might ever get the chance to see your child again.
In the panic of the moment, it is easy to forget that you do have legal options to help bring your child back to you.
Child Abduction under the Hague Convention
In the scenario outlined above, the actions of your ex-spouse can be considered as international child abduction since he/she has taken your child out of Singapore without your consent, and prevented you from exercising your custody rights. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (HCCAICA) is an international treaty which protects children who are removed or retained by a parent resulting in the other parent’s rights of custody being breached, by providing a procedure for the prompt return of the child to the country of habitual residence. Singapore has assented to the HCCAICA since December 2010.
Other countries who are signatories to this convention include Thailand, Sri Lanka, South Korea, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, China and the Philippines.
This convention helps prevent instances where parents without custodial rights can remove their children from one country, and travel to another in search for a foreign court which may grant them more favourable custody rights.
If your child has been wrongfully removed from Singapore, you may approach the Singapore Central Authority (SCA) for assistance with the application to the Central Authority of the overseas jurisdiction where your child is.
The following criteria must be met to ensure that your child can be returned to Singapore:
- Your child is below the age of 16;
- You must have “rights of custody” in relation to the child;
- Your child must have been habitually living in Singapore immediately before he or she was taken overseas; and
- The country to which your ex-spouse has brought your children to, is also a member of the Hague Convention.
If you suspect your child was taken to Singapore without your consent, you may reach out to the SCA to seek the voluntary return of your child. The SCA falls under the purview of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and its role is to not only liaise with other Central Authorities overseas in order to bring your child home, but also provide referrals on counselling services and emotional support.
A case study on how the Hague Convention can help
The Straits Times reported a case where an Australian businessman was unable to locate his Singaporean wife after she had taken their only child and fled from Melbourne, where they lived, to Singapore. After his wife had abruptly left, she stopped answering his calls and he had no contact with his son for a year. He eventually turned to the Hague Convention for assistance. The SCA located his wife and child in Singapore, and the Family Justice Court in Singapore also ordered his ex-wife to let him take their child back to Australia.
The flipside of the Hague Convention
Given that many expatriate housewives in Singapore are dependent on their husbands’ jobs in order to continue staying in the country, they are often left with very few options in Singapore when the marriage ends in divorce. Moreover, as these housewives are often financially dependent on their husbands, they may not have the resources to look after their children or pay for legal fees in Singapore – especially when the marriage becomes estranged. As such, even though the Hague Convention is meant to offer protection from cross-border child abductions, the flipside of the Convention is that it can inadvertently prevent expatriate housewives from returning to their home country with their children without their ex-spouse’s consent. That is why expatriate housewives must be careful if they want to return to their home country with their children – especially if their ex-spouse has a “right of custody”. Otherwise, she may run afoul of the Hague Convention if their ex-spouse objects.
A few interesting facts about the Hague Convention and Child Abduction in Singapore
- Since the SCA was set-up in 2011, it has handled 27 cases where a child was taken from Singapore to a signatory country.
- It has also dealt with 17 other cases where a child was taken from a signatory country and brought to Singapore.
- These cases involved a total of 63 children who were living in countries like Japan, Australia, the US and some European Union nations.
Have a question on the Hague Convention?
At Asia Law Network, we understand that having your child taken away from you without your consent by an ex-spouse can be a terrifying experience. Not only are we committed to supporting you through this difficult time, our pool of experienced lawyers will be more than capable of assisting you at every step of the way.
If you have any questions about the Hague Convention, you can get a Quick Consult with Fung Peen or other lawyers for a transparent, flat fee of S$49. You can expect a call back within 1-2 days on the phone to get legal advice and have your questions answered.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.