Janet and John had been married for about 6 years and had 2 children, Jack who was aged 4 and Jill who was aged 2.
Janet and John had been having a few problems in their marriage but, according to John, nothing too serious. However, when he came home from work one Friday evening, he discovered that Janet had gone and taken Jack and Jill with her.
Initially, John thought that Janet had gone to her parents' home for the weekend, but when he telephoned them, he was told that Janet was not with her parents; that she had left for good and that they had been forbidden to reveal where she, Jack and Jill had gone.
John spent Friday night worrying about Janet, Jack and Jill and telephoned a number of her friends to try and find out where they were, but nobody seemed able or willing to help. On Saturday morning, without any word from Janet, John telephoned the Police and reported her, Jack and Jill as 'missing persons'. The Police came and took some details from John and launched an enquiry. On Saturday evening, the Police informed John that colleagues had spoken with Janet and had checked on Jack and Jill who were safe and well. However, they informed John that they could not divulge to him their whereabouts as Janet had requested that they did not do so. The Police suggested to John that there was nothing more they could do; Janet, Jack and Jill were no longer 'missing persons' and that he should, therefore, seek legal advice.
On Monday, John met with solicitors and was advised that he had the ability to seek the assistance of the Court in ascertaining Jack and Jill's whereabouts and their return. John was advised that the Court has the power to Order any person to disclose the children's whereabouts and, as he had already used every effort to establish where they were himself without success and Janet's parents clearly knew where they were, the Court could Order Janet's parents to provide the information sought.
John confirmed that, as far as he was concerned, Jack and Jill were not at risk of harm in Janet's care and that he had no knowledge as to why Janet had 'disappeared' with them. The solicitors asked John whether there were likely to be any allegations of abuse made against him, which he denied.
John was advised that before embarking on Court proceedings, it would be appropriate for his solicitors to write to Janet in the first instance, sending the letter to her parents' address and asking that they forward it on. In the letter to Janet, the solicitors would ask that she voluntarily confirm Jack and Jill's whereabouts and attempt to agree arrangements for contact between the children and John. The solicitors would also inform Janet that she should seek her own independent legal advice if she was in any doubt as to the contents of the letter, but that if a response was not received or she refused to confirm Jack and Jill's whereabouts, then an application would be made to Court for an Order for contact and for an Order that the children's whereabouts was disclosed.
John would be advised that if it proved necessary to issue an application to the Court for an Order that Janet's parents disclose Jack and Jill's whereabouts and that application was successful, there would be no guarantee that the Court would reveal the children's address to him. The Court is likely to adopt a cautious approach as to the reasons why Janet had 'disappeared' with the children and would have to give Janet the opportunity to explain why she did not want John to know where they were. This may involve allegations of abuse, even if such allegations are denied by John. Only having satisfied itself that disclosing Jack and Jill's whereabouts is not likely to place them or, indeed, Janet at risk of harm would the Court Order that their address is divulged to John. Having ascertained their whereabouts, however, the Court could then go on to determine the application for contact between Jack, Jill and John.
Commenting on this situation, Dawn Gore a Paralegal in the Family team at Trethowans Solicitors and an expert in children matters said: " For a variety of reasons, a parent may leave the family home without prior warning, together with the children and move to an undisclosed address or, even after a separation has already taken place, a parent may choose to move away with the children, without having informed the other parent of their intention to do so. This 'story' explains the legal position and possible remedies open to a parent in this situation."