It has taken 16 years, but the 1996 Hague Convention has this year finally been ratified by the UK Government and has come in to force from 1st November 2012.
The long official title for the "1996 Hague Convention" is,
"The Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and measures for the protection of children".
However, in layman's terms this is a law which may affect children when important decisions have to be made concerning a child's welfare not only in UK but also aboard. In particular, it will affect what happens with children if they move from UK to a foreign country or move to the UK from abroad.
Whether or not the 1996 Hague Convention can be used by a parent or Government Agency to help a child can depend on whether a child has moved from or moved to a "contracting state"; i.e. a country which has signed up to this international law as the UK has now done.
One important principle of this new law affects which court can make important decisions to protect a child's safety and wellbeing. This is called "jurisdiction" and will usually be child's country of "habitual residence", although there are exceptions to this rule.
As an example, if a child and both parents are living in England, but then a parent takes the child to live in France, the parent who remains in England should now find it easier to apply to the English Court to have the child returned to live in England. Until now, legal action would have to have taken place via the French Court although this should still be an option which is available.
Another example, is that if both parents and their child live in England but then it is agreed that a parent and the child will move permanently to live in France, then the parent who remains living in England should find it easier to ensure that contact with the child continues despite the child and the parent left behind now living in different countries.
The UK Government's ratification of this international law affecting children recognises that the world is now a small place and it is becoming increasingly common for children to move between different countries as their parents also move around the world. However, it is as important to remember that not every country in the world has agreed to abide by the 1996 Hague Convention (nor the 1980 Hague Convention which came before it).
If you have a problem concerning a child especially where parents live in different countries, then the individual facts of your case will need to be carefully considered by a member of our specialist Family Law Team in order for us to help you.