Steps to Prevent your Child Being Taken out of the Country – Port Alert Orders

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Taking your child abroad without the permission of the other parent may be considered abduction under UK law.  According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, up to a third of parents do not realise they are committing a  criminal offence by removing their child from their country of residence without consent of everyone with parental responsibility.

If you are worried that your child may be abducted overseas, there are both practical and legal steps you can take  to prevent this.

  • Ensure you have the child’s passport(s). There could be more than one if your child has dual nationality.
  • Seek advice on securing a Prohibited Steps Order (“PSO”) prohibiting your child from being taken out of the UK.
  • Seek advice on securing a Specific Issue Order to determine who should have possession of your child’s passport and ensuring that another passport is not issued without your consent.
  • Contact the Identity and Passport Service to request that another passport is not issued without your permission. This can be done if you have a Court Order which confirms that your consent to the child leaving the country is necessary.
  • In the event of an attempted or imminent abduction, obtain a PSO and also consider a Port Alert Order.

What is a Port Alert Order?

A port alert order can be used if you think your child is likely to be taken abroad within 48 hours without your permission.  This will notify the National Border Targeting Centre to alert all points of departure from the UK, such as ports and airports.  A port alert order can be issued by the Court or, when the child is under the age of 16, by the police.

This will apply for 28 days, which can then be extended by order of the Court.  Any extension should only be ordered at a subsequent hearing, which has been attended by both parties.

Do there need to be ongoing court proceedings?

In the recent case of A v B (Port Alert) [2021] EWHC 1716 (Fam) Mostyn J considered whether the Family Court has the power to make a freestanding port alert order and concluded that it does.  You do not need to be in current court proceedings at the time of making the application however the order must be an incidental and supplemental order to give effect to a decision of the Family Court.  An example of this would be where the court has previously made a prohibited steps order preventing a parent from taking a child out of the country.

When will an Order be made?

Port alert orders will not be made routinely.  There must be evidence of a real and imminent risk that the child(ren) will be removed i.e. it is more likely than not.

Port Alert Orders v Tipstaff Order

Mostyn J distinguished freestanding port alert orders and Tipstaff orders, which can only be made in the High Court.  There are 3 Tipstaff orders as follows:

  1. Passport order

This allows the Tipstaff (the enforcement officer of the High Court) to remove passports and travel documents from your child and relevant adults.

  1. Location order

This allows the Court to locate your child and relevant adult(s).

  1. Collection order

This allows the Tipstaff to attend an address where your child is known to be and collect them to return them to the care of a designated person.

How to make an application?

Any application is likely to be made on an urgent ex-parte/without notice basis, meaning that there is no notice given to the other party in the case.  The application should be made to your local family court however it may be transferred to another court if there is no capacity to hear your matter on that day. Applications should be allocated to a circuit level judge or, in a complex matter, to a judge of High Court level.

If you believe there is a risk your child may be taken overseas without your permission, it is important to seek legal advice as to the steps available to you.  At IBB Law we frequently advise clients on the steps they can take to ensure these situations do not occur.  However, there are frameworks in place to ensure the safe return of your child should they already be overseas.


Speak to our Family Law specialists

IBB Law’s family law practice can provide expert advice on all family law issues. To contact the family law team please email  familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk or call 03456 381 381.

Yasmin Kibble is a solicitor in the family team and can be contacted on yasmin.kibble@ibblaw.co.uk or 01895 207 834.