raising awareness: expat stuck parent
About a month ago I was browsing through my Twitter feed and I came across a retweet of @ExpatStuckParentint
I took a look at the account thinking it might be a new expat family blogger!
It wasn’t, in fact it was kind of the opposite! It is a site dedicated to helping ‘stuck’ expat parents. I had never heard of this before, I clicked through to their website and read on.
After reading, I really wanted to help them raise awareness so offered them a guest post on the blog. So now I’ll hand you over to learn a little more about something I hope none of us will need!!
Hello expat parents: we’re excited to be guest blogging for Seychellesmama and to tell you about us… in the hope that you will never need us!
www.expatstuckparent.org is for mums or dads who find themselves trapped in a foreign country because the other parent forbids them to leave with their child/ren. It is also for parents who are forced to leave without their children because of this. You may already know a family in this situation, or may come across one in the future, so we are writing this in the hope that you will be able to offer help by pointing them in the right direction.
What does it all mean? Well, you may not realise this, but if your relationship doesn’t work out and you wish to go home with your child/ren, it’s not that easy. You can’t just up and go, even if you are subject to abuse, or your child is, even if you don’t have a visa to remain in the country after a divorce, or any means of supporting yourself: there is an international law, called the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which will generally insist that custody issues are settled in the country in which the child has ‘habitual residence’. Unfortunately, the term ‘habitual residence’ is a grey area and can come into force within a few days or weeks, or after a year or more.
To get a better idea of what this really means, here are a couple of imaginary scenarios for you (we have used examples where the mother wishes to return ‘home’ as our statistics show that 97% of parents wanting to return home are mothers, while 92% of them have suffered from abuse, mental health or drug/alcohol problems with the other parent, although of course fathers can also find themselves in such situations):
1.Andy and Joanna move to New Zealand as Andy has been offered a job there. Joanna is a stay-at-home mum, looking after the couple’s toddlers; she does her best to make friends and settle in to their new home but it’s just not the same… and then Andy has an affair. Joanna decides to get a divorce and plans on going home to Liverpool with the children. She doesn’t tell Andy much about her plans as he has already moved out and is living with his new partner. She returns to Liverpool after less than a year in NZ … what happens next?
2. Shelley left the UK to study in the USA. She met someone and moved in with him but he turned out to be abusive: the police were called several times until she finally gave up and left him. She then realized that she was pregnant but managed to continue with her studies. She has very little contact with the father of her child, who is not interested in his baby. A few years later she is offered a job in France and moves there with her baby… what happens next?
Unfortunately, in both these scenarios, and in many others, the parent in the country where they all were can invoke the Hague Convention and the courts are very likely to insist that the children must return to where the ‘left behind parent’ is and where they had lived, even if it was only for a short time. Shared custody is likely to be the court’s solution, meaning that, in the examples above, the mother then has to remain in that country if she wants to be close to her children. She may not have any support there, no job, perhaps not even a visa that allows her to work or to access any benefits, and this may ultimately result in her deportation. However, the courts are only concerned with where the child is and not with the child’s continued relationship with both parents or indeed with the child’s relationship with their primary carer.
What can we do to help? We were set up in 2012 by mums who have been through it, come out the other side but have not forgotten! We have a lively Facebook page called ‘Expat Stuck Mums’, a twitter feed – @ExpatParentInt and our website. We aim to:
- Prevent parents from falling into this trap by offering our Pre-emigration contract which helps parents to plan in good time what will happen should the move not work out for them both: http://www.expatstuckparent.org/pre-emigration-contract
- Raise awareness to prevent this situation through working with the media; contacting decision makers; attending migration fairs and publishing information
- Support parents through email and Facebook; sharing experiences and linking up parents so they can form local support networks
- Campaign to change the law so that expat parents wanting to return home are not put into the same category as abduction cases. We are currently writing a new campaign and would welcome your input!
- We are also really excited about this year because we are applying to become a registered charity (so keep a look out for a relaunch of our site with our new name!). Often people assume that we are paid, have premises and oodles of resources BUT actually we are volunteers doing this in our spare time, whilst working demanding jobs and looking after our families! Wherever you are, if you would like to volunteer please get in touch.
If you need help or support, for yourself or for a friend, or just want to know where to look for confidential advice, you can reach us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org / website: www.expatstuckparent.org / Facebook: expat stuck mums / twitter: @ExpatParentInt