The adoption of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1980 is of utmost importance, along with its ratification by the Republic of Cyprus in 1993.

The main objective of the Convention is the protection of the best interests of children who have been wrongfully removed or retained in any member state that is not the country of their habitual residence and to ensure and provide an expeditious and prompt method of return. The Convention may only be invoked where the abduction has taken place between signatory states and only applies to children under the age of 16.

Along with protecting the best interests of the child, the Convention also seeks to ensure that rights of custody and access under the national laws of a contracting state are effectively respected and enforced in other contracting states, in attempts to preserve child custody arrangements which were in place before the alleged wrongful removal or retention.

The Convention only pertains to the civil aspects of the abduction of a child, while it does not provide for the penalization of the abductor. According to the Convention, the removal or retention of a child is considered illegal when this breaches the rights of custody attributed to one of the parents.

A petition may be filed by a natural person or a legal entity (organisations, etc) to the relevant Central Authority of each member-state. In Cyprus, the Minister of Justice and Public Order has been determined as the Central Authority. The Convention has secured the cooperation between the Central Authorities in each member-state to ensure that the goals of the Convention are achieved and that the children who have indeed been wrongfully removed or retained are promptly returned.

The petition which is filed concerning the abduction may succeed only if the applicant was responsible for the custody of the child before the child was removed or retained; the right to custody was exercised or could be exercised at that point, and this right is violated by the abducting parent.

Undoubtedly the respondent, (accused parent) has the right to file a defense to the abduction petition.  The most common arguments put forward in a defense are that the right of custody was not essentially exercised by the other parent; that the other parent consented to the removal; that the child would be subjected to “grave risk of harm”, meaning that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm or otherwise be placed in an intolerable situation upon potential return to the place of habitual residence or in rare circumstances that the child wishes to remain with the abducting parent taking into consideration the maturity level of the child. This is determined on a case by case basis, should this be one of the defense grounds.

During the examination of the abduction petition, the child’s place of habitual residence is a persuasive factor which is taken into account. In the majority of cases the place of habitual residence of the child is judged based on the place that the couple decided to reside for a specific period of time, long-term or short-term.

In Cyprus the abduction petition is filed and heard before the Family Court through simplified and summary procedures.