Family courts: ‘We kidnapped our kids from abusive dads and fled the UK’

Posted: 5th September 2023

Source: BBC News

A growing number of women who say their children were handed to abusive partners by England and Wales’ family courts have abducted them and fled to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. The BBC spoke to six of them to investigate some of their stories.

“I’m told there is an arrest warrant out for me. Court orders say I can’t contact family members, my child can’t speak to their grandparents,” says Rose – not her real name. “It’s destroyed my family.”

She’s isolated in a foreign country and says her bank accounts are frozen. But Rose still believes northern Cyprus – part of a divided island, occupied by Turkey but not recognised internationally as a state – is a safe haven for her.

The UK says it takes every case of international parental child abduction very seriously and the law can be used to bring children back. But northern Cyprus is not signed up to the international treaty on child abduction and there is no official extradition agreement.

We made the journey to this self-declared republic to find out what was driving mothers to break the law, leave family and friends behind, and flee abroad with only their children.

Rose says her partner in the UK was violent and raped her while she was pregnant. Even after she left, Rose says she was subject to a “campaign of abuse”. “I was stalked, harassed,” she says.

The BBC has corroborated Rose’s story with her family and friends. We have also seen confirmation that the police were called out to reports of stalking and abuse.

One police report, made after a claim of domestic violence, graded Rose as being at risk of further harm. Rose’s partner was never convicted of an offence.

On days when her partner had contact with her daughter, Rose says the girl would return distressed. “When your child says ‘Mummy, Daddy’s hurt me’ it breaks you,” she says.

Officers referred Rose to an independent domestic violence adviser and supported her move away from her ex.

Like all the mothers we feature, Rose’s story highlights the complexities involved in many drawn-out family court cases.

The father brought a case in the family court accusing her of frustrating contact with their daughter. Rose says the court didn’t take seriously or investigate her safety concerns.

Rose says her child refused to see her father, which she believes was seen by the court as evidence of parental alienation – and led to the court ordering her daughter to live with the father.

Parental alienation is a disputed concept of children rejecting one parent because of manipulation by the other.

“It nearly destroyed me. The handover was horrific, my child was screaming, kicking – ‘Don’t make me go, Mummy’ – grabbing me.”

Away from court, Rose had been referred to Victim Support and her child’s school had raised concerns. “But the court wanted contact [with the father] at all costs. I was protecting my child,” she says.

Rose says contact with her daughter became very limited. On one visit, she decided to take her child and flee, eventually making it to northern Cyprus.

“The first night, I just stayed awake and watched my daughter breathe,” she says.

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