Stuck Parents – and What to Know Before You Go

The Expatability Chat Podcast

“I had to leave my baby in Dubai and return to the UK”

No, this isn’t me being dramatic: this is the TRUTH for far too many expat parents. 😭 

If you move overseas with your child, then spilt up with your partner, you may not be allowed to return home with your child.

Immigration laws may also forbid you from staying in that country.

You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no happy ending.

In this very special podcast episode I have the greatest honour to interview Roz Osborne, the Founder and CEO of GlobalARRK; the only charity specialising in helping stuck parents.

Find out what a stuck parent is, how you can get help if this is you, and how GlobalARRK are working to get the law changed so that abusive and coercive controlling relationships overseas don't damage even more families and children.

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transcription

Carole Okay. In this particular episode of Expatability Chat, I am thrilled to be talking to the wonderful Roz Osborne, who is the CEO and founder of GlobalARRK. You may well have seen me talking about GlobalARRK, and they provide a most incredible service in the most difficult of situations. Now, first of all, I want to read out what I found on the website. It says, ‘The GlobalARRK mission is to prevent international custody disputes and reduce their devastating impact on children and parents stuck in a foreign country by raising awareness and connecting parents to support services to meet their needs. GlobalARRK is the only charity specialising in helping stuck parents.’ 

Now, I think the key point that I really want to get out, and I know that we share the same mission of preventing this issue, is what is a stuck parent?

[00:02:17.360] - Roz

First of all, hello, Carole, and thank you very much for having me on the podcast. It's an absolute pleasure. We've been in touch loosely for many years, so it's a real pleasure to actually see you on Zoom and have a chat today. What is a stuck parent? We made up this term because it just didn't exist before, and there was no real way of describing the situation that lots of expat and migrant parents find themselves in. Basically, what it is in layman's terms, it's somebody who's a parent who's moved abroad. They might have moved abroad for work or to travel, live in a foreign country. They've had children or they've taken children with them. And then what's happened is the relationship has broken down and one parent needs to go back home to their home country. Usually it's the mum who wants to go back home. And what's happened is the other parent would like to stay, and so they don't give permission for the child to then leave that country and go back to their home country. So the mum usually then realises, Oh, dear, I can't go home. She checks the laws. Yes, that's correct.

 [00:03:34.000] - Roz

The law states that the child is what they call habitually resident in that new country. And unless she goes through the family courts in that new country, she can't go home back to her home country with her child. So that is at that point, the parent becomes what we call stuck. They can't leave, they can't go home with the child, but it's also very difficult to stay for lots of different reasons, usually. So they're almost stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 [00:04:05.810] - Carole

Yeah. And the stories I've heard are usually coercive control or domestic abuse issues. And I know you've heard a hell of a lot more stories, horror stories, than I have. So it's all down to this idea of habitual residence. A lot of people do not understand it. And I spoken to a lawyer about this for a previous podcast, and it's really, really hard to define. But I managed to narrow it down to your expectation when you move to that country. If you are going and you've set them up in a school or a nursery or a kindergarten and you've bought a house and you've sold your house at home, you were planning to stay there. And in some countries, that happens the moment you step off the plane. Other countries, it can be weeks or months. And it is the most complex law.

[00:04:59.770] - Roz

Well, in actual fact, there's been lots of case law and lots of... Basically, in the higher courts, they tend to argue about habitual residence and what it means case by case. And it's actually, these days, it's nothing to do with the intentions of the parents necessarily. It's more about where the child is normally living. And different countries interpret this in different ways. So like you say, if you move to Australia or New Zealand, your child would become habitually resident more or less as soon as they step off the plane because those countries believe that the child would just be resident at that point. Obviously, if you're going on holiday, that wouldn't apply. So I suppose the intention must be there to live there. So in that sense, there is an intention aspect to that. In Europe, the general rule of thumb is that the child must have been living in that other country for around about three months.

 [00:06:05.200] - Carole

Not long, is it, really?

[00:06:05.950] - Roz

Not long at all. And in the US, the general rule of thumb is six months. The problem with it is that parents have no idea that this law or rule even exists at all. So they may move abroad for a contract, perhaps a 12 month contract, thinking that they can just go back home after that those 12 months are up. But unfortunately, unless both parents give consent for the child to return back to country A, let's call it, then the actual habitual residence law would say, Well, no, that child is now habitually resident after X amount of months living in the new country, so you'd have to go through the family call in that country. So this has happened so many times. We're always getting emails from parents who said, for example, we moved to Singapore with Dyson or one of those big financial companies. We had a contract for a year. We've split up. Dad wants to stay. I need to go home back to the UK with my children. Is that okay? Can I do that? And really, the answer from the lawyers on that is no, you can't. Unless the other parent gives consent for the children to go back to leave Singapore to the UK, you can't do that legally.

[00:07:28.600] - Roz

And what can happen to parents that do is that the other parent can charge you with international parental child abduction. And we see this time and time again, especially in relationships that have had an abusive element. The other parent is very, very likely to use the Hague Convention in order to try to retain control over their ex partner.

[00:07:54.790] - Carole

Yeah, that's the one that I heard.

[00:07:57.120] - Roz

Yeah, exactly. So they're almost using it as a form of coercive control through the courts, which is really sad because that's a misuse of the convention. But unfortunately, the convention hasn't really gotten onto this yet, and there isn't widespread awareness that the convention is being misused by abusive ex partners. We'll come on a little bit later, I think.

[00:08:22.460] - Carole
Yes, we'll talk more about the convention in a moment.

[00:08:25.500] - Carole

Yeah. I mean, it's a horrendous situation and people do change when they've moved abroad. But the stories that I've heard, and especially with intercultural relationships, marriages, the whole coercive control is very difficult. But in some countries as well, the non working person, for example, if they've gone over on a working contract, the support parent, let's be generic.

[00:08:49.550] - Roz

The trailing spouse and like...

[00:08:51.270] - Carole

The trailing spouse, which apparently is not the said word these days. 

[00:08:55.060] - Roz

Oh. Sorry. I wasn't aware of that one.

[00:08:55.470] - Carole

I know. I use it all the time. That's fine. Haha!

[00:09:00.120] - Carole

But, you may not be allowed to have a visa to stay in that country. So you are literally kicked out of the country, but you cannot take your children with you.

[00:09:08.840] - Roz

Immigration Department often doesn't speak to the Family law department. So you may well have the family law people say, Your child needs to stay in this country because they're habitually resident here. But then you might also be getting letters from the immigration authorities saying, You're not entitled to stay here any longer. And of course, as a primary carer or a sole carer in some cases, you can't leave your child behind because you've got responsibility to look after your child, obviously. And those situations where you might have an abusive parent, you might also be protecting your child, that abusive parent, and that child may not be able to see or have contact with the other parent because they have been abusive. We've seen that a lot. Even parents in prison, so obviously they can't care for their child.

[00:10:03.410] - Carole

Using the control.

[00:10:05.050] - Roz

Yes.

[00:10:05.690] - Carole

Just purely for vindictive reasons. I mean, I did not know about this law at all before I moved overseas. Admittedly, I didn't do a huge amount of research before I first went because I was too busy. I was running a publishing company. And it wasn't until later on after I started ExpatChild that I discovered you and found out more about this. And like you, I am trying to get the message out there before people move overseas and to know that this is an issue. So I think we both use the ‘know before you go’ phrase. Is there anything that a family can do to protect this issue before they go?

[00:10:49.170] - Roz

Well, they need to have that slightly difficult discussion about what would happen if, put a whole load of scenarios on the table. What would happen if one of us doesn't like the new country? What would happen if our child got sick and needed specialist medical care? What would happen if one of us had an affair, even? I know these things are really difficult to talk about, but it's so important to have those sorts of discussions. And then if you feel able to, visit a family lawyer and actually get those written down, because then you would have a record of the discussion and the agreements that you come to about plan B, what would happen if it goes wrong, basically? You could potentially use that in court if you needed to, but hopefully just having that discussion would almost avoid the need to go to court or have any of these disagreements. And you could just say, Remember that discussion we had, and we've got it written down. So we agreed that this would happen if that happened. And so I think it just avoids so many problems down the line. It wouldn't be watertight in court, unfortunately, because circumstances change.

[00:12:05.620] - Roz

And that's what the other parent may argue. They might say, Well, when we came to this agreement, the situation was this, and now it's all different. So it no longer applies. But I think it would assist your case enormously if you'd come to that agreement. And of course, if you have that discussion with the other parent and it comes to light that they actually wouldn't agree to you ever moving back, even if things went wrong, then you might want to just reassess whether you do choose to move abroad with that person...

[00:12:37.180] - Carole

Exactly. And the other thing is, if you are too scared to have that conversation, should you really be moving overseas with them in the first place?

 [00:12:45.420] - Roz

Yes.

[00:12:46.120] - Carole

It's a little bit like a prenup, I think I've explained to somebody recently. Prenups are not such a huge thing in this country, but they are becoming so. And people don't want to think of something bad happening. I've written an awful lot about the negative side of expat life because everyone's so keen on telling everybody how wonderful it is with sipping martini by the pool every day, getting a manicure each afternoon. But expat life is not like that. I've got quite a lot of grief over the years for writing about the reality of expat life. People have this dream and they do not want their dream balloon punctured by reality, which is why I think it is so difficult to get this conversation out there, the no before you go conversation.

[00:13:32.820] - Roz

We tried to go to migration fairs and have a stall, but we've been turned away saying it might put people off moving abroad.

[00:13:41.300] - Carole

Oh, the money.

[00:13:42.980] - Roz

Yeah. So it's really great. I think it's great that you're raising this awareness and you should get a lot of thanks for it because these sorts of situations absolutely devastate lives, children's lives. It's separated from their mums a lot of the time after a hate convention case.

[00:14:03.470] - Carole

Hurts my heart. It really does. Relationships are a tricky game anyway, but if you can't have that initial conversation, it would query your relationship.

[00:14:14.400] - Roz

It's got to send some red flags, hasn't it? If you can't have an honest conversation between two grownups, you don't have that trust there.

[00:14:24.210] - Carole

You shouldn't be moving overseas in the first place. So many people think that life will change and be better. I think I shared something recently, the grass isn't always greener because the grass may be fake. Let's get that message out there before you go. But if you don't get this message before you go and you find yourself stuck, how can you at GlobalARRK help somebody?

[00:14:48.570] - Roz

Right. So we do what we can to help any family living anywhere in the world. We're a very small charity, but we do everything we can. We pull out all the stops. So what we've got on our website is a contact form. Anyone can fill it in. And then we will arrange a phone call with that parent to see what they need and how we can help. And then following on from that, we will send out information relevant to their needs and contacts in the country where they're stuck. That might be charitable organisations that can help. Often, we've worked with them before. We've got a big long list of organisations and also lawyers that are specialist lawyers in that area. All of the lawyers we work with offer a free consultation. Even if parents don't have money, they can still get a free consultation from an expert lawyer, which is brilliant. We have peer support groups available. Parents can join an online chat group and meet other parents in the same situation as them. Then we just offer the follow up support. We have befriending. We have volunteers that will call parents once a week for six weeks and give them a befriending call, which really helps them feel less alone.

[00:16:08.590] - Carole

Yes, because the feeling of isolation, nobody understanding the situation because everybody says, ‘Oh, just take the kids and go home’. No, you can be charged with kidnap and it's a very bad thing. But all we can do is our best. But my goodness, what you offer is, well, lifesaving, I am sure.

[00:16:29.360] - Roz

Yeah. I mean, lots of parents have said it saves them their life because they've been suicidal, really depressed and anxious. And so I think the peer support and also the help line is just really, really helpful for people.

[00:16:46.400] - Carole

Yeah. I'm going to put all the links into the show notes, and I'm going to also transcribe this to an article to go on to Expert Child with all of the links to GlobalARRK. And let's just hope that we can get the information out there. I was nosing around your website and I noticed that you offer a draft contract before you go.

[00:17:11.980] - Roz

Well, we used to, but we've taken that off the website now because we were advised by various solicitors that it was better for people to get individual contracts made up. Rather than download that.

[00:17:25.330] - Carole

Yes, that makes sense.

[00:17:25.830] - Roz

And we didn't want to mislead people and think that they could just download a contract and that would be watertight because it's never going to be watertight anyway because, as I said, circumstances change, et cetera. So we've got on the website steps that people can take. I think, to guide them through the process, but we haven't actually got the document up there anymore.

[00:17:51.340] - Carole

That makes perfect sense. I've had people come to me asking for draft contracts, and I obviously can't touch anything legal, and I've sent them to your site and hopefully they found the help that they need. Our mission is very similar. Know before you go.

 [00:18:07.980] - Roz

Absolutely. It's a really tricky topic as well, to be fair, that you've taken on here.

[00:18:13.880] - Carole

As soon as I found out about GlobalARRK and the whole situation and seeing fellow expats around me having issues with their partners and hearing the stories of what goes on behind closed doors, absolutely horrifying.

[00:18:29.860] - Roz

People can feel... When I say people, I mean mums, really. Mums can feel very trapped in abusive relationships because they're told, You can't go home. You can't leave. If you try to leave, I'm going to take your children away from you. It's really, really sad. They stay and they're very, very vulnerable because they can't see a way out. Whereas when you're in your home country, you have that knowledge, I suppose, of the culture, don't you? And… kind of… of the systems.

[00:19:01.070] - Carole

And you can read the language for a start. You can say something to your GP, for example.

[00:19:07.230] - Roz

You know how to get help, don't you, when you're in your home country? And you've obviously got your network of family and friends that are like a rock that keeps you on the straight and narrow when things go a bit wrong. Whereas abroad, it's quite easy to get cut off, I think, from all of your social networks and the people that you've known for a long time. And you might have lots of new friends, but they're also caught up in the, Oh, isn't this wonderful living abroad sometimes? And if you say, Well, actually, I'm not happy here and I want to go back to my home country, the reaction can be quite negative from those people that are quite happily living as expats there. Why would you want to go back to Blighty?

[00:19:47.950] - Carole

Oh, exactly. And when you get back home, ‘why did you move back?’ Well, the contract ended. We had to. ‘Oh, you must be so happy to be back home’ as if I was forced to move overseas in the first place. It was very strange. But a couple of friends of mine I know have been in very, very difficult situations. One I know had to stay in a very abusive relationship until the contract came to an end and they moved back to the UK. How she physically survived, I do not know. I also helped another friend leave the country that we were in at the time. Obviously, I'm being incredibly vague, to go back to her home country with her children. Everything was fine. He didn't care. So luckily, he didn't pull in the Hague convention. So yeah, it's touched me. Luckily, I've not been in that situation. But unfortunately, I know many people who have.

[00:20:46.730] - Roz

Quick question before we move on. Do you think that companies need to be aware of this when they're sending families abroad?

[00:20:54.200] - Carole

Yes, absolutely. Gosh, that's a good point.

[00:20:57.450] - Roz

Because I think they need to be aware of the law and have strategies in place somehow to protect people, maybe a prenup type thing before they move abroad to say about the what ifs, like we've discussed, maybe to get someone like GlobalARRK in to do some training or some awareness.

[00:21:20.320] - Carole

We could go in together!

[00:21:21.630] - Roz

Yeah, I think so. Because places like Singapore are so popular. What with Dyson moving over there. I do feel that there's a real gap that companies need to be doing their bit, really.

[00:21:35.410] - Carole

Very much so. The companies should know. Let's talk about that later on.

[00:21:41.730] - Carole

I have light bulbs going off in my head now. Other very difficult countries would be the Middle East.

[00:21:48.050] - Roz

I think. Absolutely, Dubai. We've had some really terrible stories from mums in Dubai who have been treated horrifically by the family courts there because, of course, they have a completely different system.

[00:22:04.150] - Roz

Exactly. Unfortunately, women's rights are not at the top of their agenda there.

[00:22:09.190] - Carole

They don't exist at all.

[00:22:11.430] - Roz

No, exactly. Those mums can be I mean, it's very difficult for them to apply for relocation, which, of course, is the legal route that people need to take if they want to take their children home is to make an application to the family court called relocation, or it can sometimes be called Leave to Remove. So making that application in some countries, for example Dubai, can be really difficult because men just have the ultimate power over everything.

[00:22:43.170] - Carole

Regardless of their nationality.

[00:22:45.510] - Roz

Yes. They're in that country, so they have to abide by that country's law. We had one mum that had to come back to Britain without her baby, and she's had to leave her baby in Dubai in the most horrific of circumstances. She was put on the non flight list. She couldn't literally get out of the country with her baby, even though they're a British family. So she's obviously going through absolute heartbreak now, having to live here without her baby. But she had no choice. She had nowhere to live. She had no money. She couldn't stay in Dubai. And yet there was no option to bring her child back home to the UK.

[00:23:29.530] - Carole

It's just heartbreaking and mind blowing, isn't it? And we need to get this sorted. And I'm saying we because I'm fully behind you with this and you've led the way for years. And I'm basically following in your footsteps, trying to get that information out there. Now, it all boils back down to what we call the Hague Convention, but I know it's got a heck of a longer name than that.

[00:23:56.950] - Roz

Yeah. But if you put into Google Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, and it's 1980 and 1996, but people normally talk about the 1980, which was when it was first introduced, really at a time when people didn't move abroad very much at all. There was not really expats as there are now.

[00:24:19.520] - Carole

That's true.

[00:24:20.730] - Roz

Completely different global climate. It was introduced really to stop fathers taking their children abroad after a negative custody decision, which was what was happening quite a lot at the time. Fathers would take their children to Morocco or somewhere like that just to get away from the English court system, for example. But the problem is these days, it's not affecting those situations at all. So who it's affecting is primary carer mothers who are essentially fleeing domestic violence a lot of the time and returning to their home country with their children to try to get to a place of safety. So over 75 % of Hague Convention cases involve a primary carer mother going home with her children. Nobody knows that. Not something that is in the public domain. But that is an actual figure that the Hague Convention has on their website, if you dig around. And to be honest, it's probably higher than that. In reality, that figure was from 2017. So we've just done a Freedom of Information request to get an updated figure. I will let you know if they ever get back to me on that.

[00:25:33.610] - Carole

That would be fascinating.

[00:25:35.230] - Roz
I suspect it will be more like in the 85 %, 90 % of cases.


[00:25:41.720] - Carole
That sounds about right. I obviously have heard of a couple of men, but it is going to generally be the mother, the trailing spouse, the person who's given up their career to be a stay at home parent because the job is usually by the guy. You can argue as – I’m talking to my listeners here - you can argue as much as you like about gender equality, but it does not count in real life sometimes. 

So you've got a petition coming up, I understand. Can you talk about that?

[00:26:08.810] - Roz

Yeah. So I guess by the time this podcast is out in July sometime, the petition will be up and running and hopefully we'll have some signatures on it by then. But basically, we're working with other frontline charities around the world who are also supporting these, what they call ‘Hagued Mums’, in trying to raise awareness that this is an issue that now affects primary carer mothers going back to their home country after suffering abuse. And we're trying to raise awareness because there is a big meeting happening in October of all of the signatories to the convention. It's really important that they know that the convention is being misused and really important that they set up better systems to protect families in this situation because at the moment, there are many problems with the way that they're treating families. For example, the taking parent, which is usually the mum, isn't eligible for legal aid, whereas the other parent, what they call left behind parent, which is who they think of as the wrong parent, but in actual fact may not be, is entitled to automatic legal aid. So what's happening is, in the courts, the mums can be unrepresented.

[00:27:29.980] - Roz

Those that are fathers get the best lawyers, so the mums are not able to then present their case effectively. It's a difficult case to win anyway because they do not accept domestic abuse against the mum as being a cause to not return the child. There's massive safeguarding issues there because obviously, if you're returning a child to a perpetrator of abuse, that child is likely to be at risk of harm. The courts need to understand that these perpetrators are misusing the law and to put into play safeguarding protection for those families affected.


[00:28:11.090] - Carole

It's horrifying. I don't have enough words in my brain to say how scary that concept is. And yet somehow I'm not surprised. I suppose I've been around too long to be surprised by very much these days. I will be putting a link to that petition everywhere I can. And let's just try and get this working for the stuck parents, and most importantly, for the children.

[00:28:38.520] - Roz

Absolutely. In October, they only meet every five or six years. 


[00:28:43.520] - Carole

We've got to get it done. 


[00:28:44.810] - Roz

This is our chance to have a say, to tell them the system is not working, it's broken, please fix it before it affects any more children.

[00:28:55.930] - Carole

Please move into the 21st century and save the kids. Now, the last bit I personally want to say is something I said earlier as well. If you are thinking that moving overseas is going to save a dodgy relationship, if you are too nervous to have that initial conversation, which personally I've talked about before, if you're too nervous to have that conversation, consider why. Because moving overseas is not going to fix any problems. You're not running away from, I don't know, too much rain is the common reason. You're not running away to make your life better. You could be just taking all your troubles with you and then amplifying them if you split up and… just horrible things. So please just know before you go. And if you've got any questions, you know how to get in touch with me. Is there anything, Roz, that you would like to add to get the news out there, get people knowing about this?

[00:29:54.130] - Roz

Yeah. So just you can email us at globalARRK. Our email address is info@ globalarrk.org Just ask us any question. We can give you a ring or we can email you back with the answers. And just, yeah, absolutely. What Carole said, basically. 

[00:30:13.740] - Carole

Hahaha!

[00:30:14.610] - Roz

What Carole said: Know Before You Go is the best thing. If you do run into problems abroad, we can hopefully help you. And we do have really good connections with those experts that you may need. So do reach out, don't be scared. Everything is confidential. And if anybody would like to give us a donation, we would very grateful receive any donations we run on a very tight budget. It's difficult to get funding for this work, basically, because nobody knows about the issue. So if you feel minded to give us a donation, go to the website and there's various ways to do that. We'd be so grateful.

[00:30:55.180] - Carole

I'll put all of the links I can possibly think of into the notes for this podcast. And as I say, I'll turn this into an article so it will reach even more people that way. If you are stuck, just know that because of Roz, you are not alone. You have got help out there and please reach out. Thank you once again, Roz, for your wonderful explanation of some very, very difficult topics.


[00:31:22.710] - Roz
Thanks very much for inviting us on to talk and we're really grateful for your support and hopefully we'll be in touch over the coming months to change the systems around the convention.

[00:31:34.730] - Carole

We're going to make this happen, that's for sure.

[00:31:37.550] - Roz

That's brilliant. Thank you so much.

[00:31:39.080] - Carole

Thank you. 

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