Stuck parents: an unintended consequence of The Hague Abduction Convention 1980

We at GlobalARRK coined the term “stuck parent” over ten years ago because there wasn’t a way to identify this group of parents with distinct needs and characteristics. The term is now commonly used by parents, the media and even in Parliament. A stuck parent is one who has moved abroad and is unable to return to live in the country they consider their home country with their children because the other parent or the court does not give permission. If that parent takes their child home without permission, they can be accused of “international parental child abduction” under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 otherwise known as the Hague Abduction Convention. GlobalARRK registered as a charity to support stuck parents in 2016, and since then we have supported over 2,000 families, 30% of them have “abducted” their child. We do not refer to these parents as “child abductors’ because it can harm outcomes, instead we refer to them as “taking” parents. This leaves a silent majority of 70% who are just “stuck”. Despite desperately wanting to, they cannot go back and live in their home country with their children. This creates a whole host of secondary problems which we will explore.

The profile of a “stuck” or “taking” parent

When most people think of a “taking” parent, they think of a non-custodial father who is trying to circumvent a family court decision by taking his children abroad. Indeed, the Hague Abduction Convention 1980 was set up to deal with these types of situations. However, due to a massive increase in global migration, there are many more families living abroad than in 1980. If these parents separate, often one parent (usually the mother) wants or needs to return to her home country with the children. Parents are often unaware of the law and think they can simply move back “home” with the children if the relationship breaks down. The most recent data we have on the profile of taking parents is from Professor Nigel Lowe from Cardiff University in 2015. He concluded:

“73% of taking persons were mothers, a higher proportion than the 69% recorded in 2008, 68% in 2003 and 69% in 1999… Where the information was available, the large majority (83%) of taking persons were the “primary carer” or “joint-primary carer” of the child where the taking person was the mother.”

We suspect that these figures are lower than reality and that nearly all “taking parents” are in fact primary carer mothers who are returning to their home country.

In Chapter 9 of her book, Spider Woman, Lady Hale laments:

“[it] seemed to me that I had spent most of my time oppressing women, specifically mothers: sending them back around the world to the country from which they had escaped, bringing their children with them without permission.”

Domestic abuse

There is no official data on how many mothers are fleeing domestic abuse when they take their child from abroad back into their home country of England & Wales. In our survey, of 136 taking parents, only four reported no abuse, two were not sure and the rest reported that they had been a victim of domestic abuse.

One of our stuck mums, Emma, recently told us:

“I became pregnant during the COVID lockdowns, I dreamt of returning home to the UK but with flights on lockdown I was forced to give birth away from family. Since then, my relationship has deteriorated. I am prevented from returning home. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to take my son to my homeland. I am on an emergency temporary visa, losing my spouse visa after I fled the abusive marriage. I must leave the country to reapply for a new visa, but I am not permitted to take my 9-month-old out of the country, but I cannot leave him behind. I was not crazy, I did not deserve to get hit like he told me, I was suffering post-natal depression and was a victim of abuse. I have no support, no transport, I cannot work and don’t speak the language. It is truly a nightmare.”

Domestic violence within Hague Abduction 1980 cases has finally started to be more widely acknowledged. In December 2022 the Australian Federal Government announced reforms so that “family and domestic violence can be considered before return orders are made for children under the Hague convention”. Domestic abuse is one of the most serious and sadly common issues that stuck parents face, but it is important to recognise that they also typically face a range of other risk factors including financial difficulties (62%), lack of immigration status (20%), poor mental health and wellbeing (70%), language barriers (43%), no legal representation (43%) and insecure housing (38%).

Poor mental health

The mental health consequences of being a stuck parent are significant and yet under-researched. There is an inherent loss of autonomy and control in a parent’s life when they are unable to legally leave a country with their children. Some parents may find themselves in circumstances where they cannot speak the language, obtain employment, receive health care or establish a support network. Domestic violence or coercive control may have occurred in the relationship with the other parent. In 1972 the American psychologist Martin Seligman identified the theory of learned helplessness, whereby being repeatedly unable to avoid negative situations leads to feeling powerless and eventually not even trying to prevent adversity. This is known to lead to depression. Studies show that lacking or losing an internal locus of control (Rotter, 1954) predisposes individuals to conditions such as depression and PTSD. For stuck parents, the locus of control usually sits with the other parent or the court system. Being unable to leave an intolerable situation is fertile ground for PTSD. It is clinically difficult to effectively treat individuals with these mood disorders when the perpetuating factor for their illness – being “stuck” – continues with no sign of relenting. Furthermore, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and of being trapped in a distressing situation are all risk factors for suicide.

It is well-known that children are adversely affected by parental mental illness. This could be in addition to factors such as the impact of parental separation, growing up in a home of conflict and the lack of a buffering support network. If parents are isolated, so are the children. Their stress response system can be over-activated in the presence of unrelenting stress and the lack of containment from an emotionally healthy adult. This can lead to impaired social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. The mental health impact of being a “stuck parent” is significant and should be given more weight in relocation decisions. GlobalARRK is currently undergoing research with Aberdeen University on the effects of being “stuck” on mental health.

Financial hardship

In the majority of the cases, the stuck parent is struggling to survive financially in a foreign country and needs to return home to find work or claim benefits. Over the past year our parent support team saw that families were struggling more than ever due to the cost-of-living crisis, so we decided to set up a “Christmas Hardship” fund to help them pay for essentials over the Christmas period.

Sian’s story

Sian and her daughter are stuck in a country where she is unable to speak the language, severely impairing her ability to find work in her remote town. She is on a temporary visa which prohibits governmental welfare support and facing her electric and water supplies being turned off as she can no longer pay her bills. In December Sian was unable to buy enough food for herself or her daughter – and would regularly skip meals. Whilst she reached out to foodbanks and charities, she was turned down for living too far away. Thankfully, Sian was supported through the GlobalARRK hardship grant and was able to make it through Christmas.

Is relocation the answer?

Unfortunately, for many British parents stuck abroad, a relocation or leave to remove application simply isn’t an option. Cases can go on for a long time, between six months to five years, and legal fees can run into many tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, and to top it off, cases are notoriously hard to win. In a cruel twist of fate in cases where domestic abuse has been reported by the applicant, the chance of being granted relocation is slim as judges are loathe to grant relocation unless contact with the abusive parent is likely to be continued.

Losing the right to go home with their children can be devastating for parents, both emotionally and financially. The hardest part of our work is when the parent leaves their child behind and moves home because they cannot see a way through all the difficulties with post-separation abuse, immigration, poverty or mental health problems.

What we do to help

GlobalARRK provides free emotional and practical support for stuck parents with a call back helpline; email and messaging; online support groups; signposting to expert legal support; and legal factsheets. We also raise awareness of the issues by publishing on our website and our social media, working with the media and giving talks and presentations. We advocate for a fairer system for stuck parents and support research that will better inform decision making and system changes. Check out our Principles for Change on the website.

How you can help

We are looking for family law firms who are specialists in either relocation/leave to remove or international child abduction to become members of our Legal Network. A member will be listed on our website and receive referrals from our parent support team. If you are interested in supporting GlobalARRK as a legal network lawyer/law firm, please get in touch at

If you are contacted by a stuck parent in need of support, please pass on our contact details. Ask the parent to visit our website,, or email our parent support team on If you would like to give a donation to support our work, that would be gratefully received. We receive no government funding and rely on donations. Visit 

With thanks to Dr Laura Jane Kean, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, NHS Borders, for her contribution to the Mental Health section of the article