Marino Law | Gold Coast Law Firm

Room for improvement in police handling of withheld children

A New South Wales coronial inquest into the death of a father and daughter yesterday recommended a change in police procedures when they receive reports of a child not being returned pursuant to a parenting plan or court order.

Currently those matters are often considered civil matters until a recovery order is issued by the Family Law courts and directed towards the Australian Federal Police. Accordingly, parents are then required to make an urgent application to the Court for the issuing of such an Order.  The request for urgency is then considered by the Registrar of the Court and the matter can be listed as soon as the next day or sometimes up to 3 – 4 weeks thereafter, depending on the circumstances.  These types of applications come at a significant cost also, which is often out of the reach of parents.  A delay of some weeks is unbearable for a parent who’s child has not been returned to them and they have fears for their safety.

In 2014 the tragic circumstances of Gregory Hutchings and his daughter Eeva came to light when he did not return her to her mother on 11 January 2014 in accordance with their agreement.

Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan yesterday found that Mr Hutchings ended his daughter’s life prior to taking his own.  Their bodies were found over two weeks later.

When Eeva was not returned, her Mother contacted NSW Police and registered the concern, but records indicated it was noted by the NSW Police as a “custody issue”.   It was not until the next day that an alert was issued by the Police about Eeva’s disappearance.

Magistrate O’Sullivan, whilst not being critical of the NSW Police service, did recommend that their standard operating procedures and handbook be amended so that any child not returned pursuant to a parenting plan or court order is immediately treated as a missing person.

It is hopeful that such a recommendation is taken up nationwide, such that this tragic circumstance can be avoided in the future.

If your child or children have not been returned to you pursuant to an order or agreement, it is vital to take urgent steps to seek a recovery order.  The Family Law team at Marino Law are available to assist with utmost priority given to such matters.  Contact us on 55260157.

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