The highly publicised detention of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner and the four members of Channel Nine’s flagship current affairs program 60 Minutes in Beirut, Lebanon, has highlighted the risks and consequences of overseas travel amid child custody disputes in countries where The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Convention”) is not in force.
Ms Faulkner, and 60 Minutes, travelled to Beirut together with a firm of purported ‘Child Recovery’ experts. They attempted to take Ms Faulkner’s own two young children, aged 4 and 6 years, from the care of their Lebanese father while the children were out walking with their paternal grandmother and nanny.
The Convention is a widely ratified international convention. It is in force in 82 countries; other countries have signed the Convention but not yet ratified or are yet to enforce it. The Convention is designed to facilitate international co-operation for the recovery of children amid international custody disputes. A parent may apply to the appropriate jurisdiction in their resident country under the Convention. If successful, an Order is made which is then enforced by the local authorities – such as the police – in the country in which the child is detained. The child is returned to their resident country where legal proceedings, if applicable, would continue under the applicable domestic law.
In Ms Faulkner’s case the issue arose as Lebanon is not a party to the Convention. As soon as Ms Faulkner, and 60 Minutes, stepped foot on Lebanese soil they were subject to Lebanese law. Ms Faulkner’s Australian Court Orders were unenforceable there – they were effectively worthless. Ms Faulkner engaged the firm of CARI (Child Abduction Recovery International) to perform a professional kidnapping to circumvent Lebanese law, which went horribly wrong. The events were complicated by the involvement of 60 Minutes, and their apparent financing (and filming) of the operation.
While Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes crew are now safely back in Australia, and the civil proceedings brought by the father of the children have been withdrawn, or settled, both the financial and emotional cost remains unknown. It has been reported Ms Faulkner has foregone future rights to custody of her children; it is suggested Channel 9 paid large amounts of money to the father of the children in consideration for dropping the charges. Furthermore, there may still be Lebanese criminal charges arising from the incident; the child recovery team members remain incarcerated in Lebanon.
Managing Director Paul Staindl has been widely consulted in the Australian media on international child recovery in response to the incident, including on 3AW morning radio 3AW with Neil Mitchell in Melbourne, and Ben Davis in Brisbane. The Age’s ‘Insight’ lift-out of 16 April 2016 detailed the role of the international child recovery industry, and its unregulated, illegal, and generally mercenary nature.
If a parent is involved in a child custody dispute they should obtain legal advice in circumstances where international travel for the children is proposed. If they have any concern that a child may be taken overseas, without their knowledge or consent, then they should seek legal advice, as court action can be taken to ensure the child cannot travel without agreement, and appropriate safeguards. Only in this way can a parent guarantee that they do not find themselves at the whim of a foreign country, where the domestic laws and custody considerations may be vastly different from Australia.