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Family law and the police: what role do police play?

By March 16, 2022February 23rd, 2024No Comments

Family law and the police: what role do police play?

People often believe that police have an important role in helping the Family Court enforce parenting orders. In truth their role is limited. Let’s have a quick look at how the police might become involved in family law matters and what to do if you need help.

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Here are some of the typical situations where family law might intersect with police operations.

“My co-parent has withheld our child”

A parent retaining their child isn’t criminal as such, so police don’t have the jurisdiction to get involved. What can they do? They may do a welfare check to ensure your child is safe. If the child is determined to not be at risk of harm, they will take no other action.

If you wish to have your child returned to you, you can begin family law proceedings (noting that in most situations, you will first need to attend mediation before being able to take parenting matters to court unless you meet one of the exemptions.)

“My co-parent has breached our parenting orders”

If you have already been to court and your co-parent is breaching your parenting orders, you can file a contravention application with the court. You may be able to apply for a recovery order. The court may make an order which allows for the return of the child to you at a designated time and location or may engage the police to carry out the order.

If police are following a recovery order they may remove the child from the other parent. You can find out more about recovery orders at the AFP’s family law kit page. It specifies that police will not allow you to be present when they remove the child, but that they will only do so if you are nearby (so for example if the child is interstate, you would first travel to that state to a designated police station to collect your child).

“My co-parent is attempting to remove my child overseas”

Police can become involved is if a child has been prohibited from being removed from the Commonwealth of Australia by family court order. In situations like this, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) can intercept and stop the unlawful removal of the child, with the help of the police in any state or territory. Find out how to put your child on the Family Law All Ports Watchlist.

My co-parent has already removed my child overseas”

If the child has already been removed from the AFP’s jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Australia, our police can no longer intervene. However, it may be possible to make a Hague Convention case for a child’s recovery from an overseas jurisdiction (if a signatory to the Convention) through the court system.

“I need help with family violence and abuse”

The police can become involved in situations where family violence is a factor, such as by issuing an intervention order to protect you or your children, or by referring you to services.

What’s important to understand is that police intervention orders do not revoke or override family court orders. They will also not prevent a family court from making orders for contact with a child, even if that child is listed as a protected person on the intervention order. Typically, a provision is included in the intervention order which requires it to be subject to any family court orders for contact with the children. In other words, contact can still take place if the parents agree, or a court makes orders for contact to occur. 

*If you are concerned for the safety or welfare of a child, contact your State or Territory child welfare service, or your local police.*

*If you have immediate concerns that a child is in danger or at risk of abduction, contact the police in your State or Territory on Triple Zero (000).*

If you need family law assistance with any of the above matters, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.


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