In recent weeks, Australia has been captivated by the tragic story of Sally Faulkner and her Beirut based children, aged 5 and 3. Irrespective of your feelings in relation to the steps taken by Faulkner and Sixty Minutes, it remains that a Mother was led to adopt desperate measures out of a desire to be reunited with her children. The further tragedy is that the children in question are likely to be denied a childhood in which they enjoy the presence of both their Father and Mother. The situation in Beirut has been particularly difficult for Ms Faulkner and the Australian Government to negotiate because Lebanon is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. This in short means that Lebanon is not bound to act consistently with an Australian custody order which would require the children to be returned to Australia.
The incidence of children being born to relationships between parents of different ethnic backgrounds is increasingly common, and so too are the tug of wars that ensue following separation and in circumstances where both parents legitimately wish to remain living in, or return to their place of origin following separation. The complexity of these situations needs to be actively considered by couples of such diversity embarking on parenthood. The questions which are so rarely asked in happier times include:
- Am I comfortable giving birth to our children in a country in which they may later found to be domiciled and accordingly permanently based ? In other words, am I prepared to accept that I will be bound to remain in a foreign country for the duration of their childhood if my partner doesn’t agree to their departure?
- If we separate:
- is it agreed that I can travel to or return with our children to another country, and is that agreement in writing ? or
- will I be agreeable to my former partner travelling with the children to their homeland, and particularly if that country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction?
Some might argue that Sally Faulkner’s greatest mistake was her agreement to allow the children to travel to Lebanon in circumstances where there was no realistic means of requiring their return if their Father unilaterally retained them there. To be fair, the children’s Father has publically voiced his frustration at the children being removed to Australia in the first place. It remains that the inability of their parents to agree to live in one location will deny two children what is a right enshrined in Australian law, the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents.