20,000 children in Australia are reported missing every year. Missing children cases are devastating, especially for parents. If your child is missing, you may feel scared and don’t know your options.
In specific cases, such as parental abduction, a parent can file an order with the court to have the missing child returned to them. These orders are known as “recovery orders” and “location orders”.
So what can a parent do? If you are wondering, “How do I go about locating my child?”, “What orders can the Court make?”, or, “How do you apply for different court orders?”, continue reading to know how the Family Court can help you locate your missing child.
Why Children Go Missing
Missing children is, unfortunately, a major problem globally, including in Australia. Here are common reasons why children go missing and if any of them can apply to your child.
Parental abduction occurs when one parent takes their child against the will of the primary carer parent or another caretaker. One of the main reasons for parental abduction is disputes over care of the children. Some parents may even abduct their child for vengeful reasons.
If one parent is from a different country than where the child resides, the parent may take their child across international borders. This can be for the same reasons mentioned previously. Some other common reasons include homesickness and starting a new life in their home country.
Abduction by a Third-Party
This type of abduction is when the offender is a third-party, not the child’s parent or caretaker. They could be taken by a significant other, a friend, or even another family member. They could also be kidnapped by a complete stranger.
Foul play isn’t always a reason for these cases, but these are often the cases that end fatally. If you suspect your child was abducted by a third-party, call the police immediately.
Parental Abduction and Divorce
Parental abduction is unfortunately more common than most people think.
Parental abduction occurs frequently right after separation in Australia. If there’s a parenting battle and one parent is awarded full parental responsibility or if one parent is dissatisfied with co-parenting, the other parent often takes away the child out of anger and vengeance.
This also happens before parenting issues is determined; one parent may know they can’t receive time with the children and may abduct the child out of desperation.
The child may also be prevented from seeing other family members, friends, peers, pets, and other loved ones for fear that the abducting parent will get caught. If the child is taken across international borders, they may lose familiar sights and surroundings that help them feel safe.
There is still a chance of abuse and physical harm to the child, especially if the perpetrator has a history of family violence. All of these aspects can impact the child and cause severe trauma.
What to Do If Your Child Is Missing
New South Wales has the highest cases of missing children in Australia — there are 25 missing person reports every day. It’s important you act immediately to ensure your child is safe.
Call the Police
Regardless of why your child is missing, you should call the police immediately. If you suspect your child is with a friend or another loved one, inquire with them first. If you have no luck, call your local law enforcement agency before you continue searching.
For persons under the age of 18, you don’t have to wait to file a report.
Contact the Courts
After you notify law enforcement, you may be able to apply to the Federal Circuit Court for a recovery order or location order. We’ll go over these orders in another section.
Contact Missing Children Organisations
There are a couple of different missing children organisations that will help locate your missing child. You don’t have to wait 24 hours after their disappearance to file a report.
You can submit a report to the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre. If you suspect your child crossed international borders, you can contact the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.
Do you need to file a recovery order? Here’s how to apply, what to do after you apply, and additional information you should know.
What Is a Recovery Order?
Under section 67Q of the Family Law Act of 1975, a recovery order is an order that requires a child to be returned to their legal guardian. You can apply for a recovery order if:
- You’re the child’s parent; or
- Someone who has parental responsibility for the child;
Keep in mind that the Court is not a child recovery agency. You must contact the police if you’re unsure of your child’s whereabouts.
Can Only the Legal Guardian Apply for a Recovery Order?
In some cases, other individuals can apply for a recovery order. The child’s grandparents can often apply. Depending on the situation, anyone close to the child can also apply, specifically if they’re concerned about the welfare, care, and development of the child.
You can also engage a lawyer to help you fill out the application.
How to Apply for a Recovery Order
A recovery order is filed with the Federal Circuit Court. The Court has locations in each state’s capital city. The main information you’ll need is the name of your child, the date you’re filing the order, your name, and your guardian status.
You’ll also need an affidavit for your application.
You need to provide information such as:
- Previous court hearings and family law orders;
- History of the relationship between you and the missing child;
- How and when the child was taken (if you know this information);
- Details about the child, such as where he/she lives;
- Steps you have taken to find the child;
- Where the child may be and why you think so;
- Impact of the child if the recovery order isn’t fulfilled;
- Why the child should be returned to you (why it’s in their best interests); and
- Anything else that’s relevant to your case
The more information you provide, the more likely you’ll find your child.
It’s important you follow the directions on the application and seek assistance from a solicitor, if necessary.
What Happens Next?
If your child returns, you must notify the Court immediately. As stated previously, the Court isn’t actively finding your child. The recovery order authorises another body (usually the police) to find and return your child.
What If Your Child Isn’t Found?
Are you wondering, “What if I try recovering my child and they’re still missing?”. If the police can’t find your child, there’s still more you can do. You can file a location order, a publication order, and a Commonwealth information order. We’ll go over these orders in a different section.
What Is a Location Order?
A location order requires the parent or legal guardian to know the child’s whereabouts, who took the child, and whose care they’re in. The legal guardian can file an order in the Court if the guardian has taken reasonable steps to locate the child and has had no luck.
According to Rule 21.02 of the Family Law Rules, an application must be submitted with an affidavit. The information you must provide includes:
- Relationship between you and the missing child;
- Steps that were taken to locate the child;
- Where the child might be located;
- Expected outcome if the order isn’t made; and
- Why returning the child to the applicant is in the child’s best interests
After the application is submitted, the police or third-party will report their findings to the Court. The applicant may also request that they return the child.
Publication orders allow the media the report limited details on your child. This includes photographs, the last place they were seen, the last person they were seen with, and where they’re suspected to be and/or who they’re with.
Every case is different and publication orders vary with every applicant.
Commonwealth Information Order
This order states anyone can provide information on a missing child’s whereabouts. These people usually contact the Registry Manager of the court with this information.
The court also has the authority to know of the whereabouts of the other parent. They may retrieve information from Centrelink, financial institutions, Australian Tax Office (“ATO”), Medicare, and more.
This information is then disclosed to the Court.
What Happens If Your Child Is Taken Overseas?
In cases of parental and international abductions, there are specific steps the legal guardian must take. You can file a report with the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children and you can submit your child’s profile to the Global Missing Children’s Network.
If you suspect which country your child is in, you can contact the law enforcement agency in that country.
If you don’t know where your child was taken, you can file a Hague Convention case. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty where arrangements are made for children who were taken out of their country of residence without permission.
To file a case, contact the Australian Attorney-General and your solicitor for assistance.
What If There’s Violence in the Household?
While parental abduction is unlawful, many parents escape abusive households and take their children — oftentimes to a different country. This is covered under Section 67P of the Family Law Act 1975. This section covers risk, alleged, and reported family violence.
Certain information can’t be disclosed to an applicant if they’ve been accused of family violence. For example, if the other parent files an Intervention Order, the other parent and child are protected under the law.
Does that mean the child’s whereabouts won’t be reported? Instead of informing the applicant, the child’s whereabouts will be reported to the Court, the applicant’s lawyer, police officer, process server, or other third-party.
Australia’s family law is concerned about the child’s best interests. The Court will do what’s necessary to protect the child and ensure they’re safe. In addition, Intervention Orders are executed to protect victims of family violence.
Need to Recover a Missing Child? Hire a Solicitor to Help
Looking for a missing child is never easy. Parents with primary care and legal guardians can seek assistance from the Court to help recover and locate their child. They can also allow their child to be reported on the media, in missing children’s networks, and can retrieve information about the parent who has allegedly taken the children.
A solicitor can also help you file applications with the Court. We have expertise in family law and other areas of law. If you need any assistance, contact us today.