On Russia’s accession to the 1980 Child Abduction Convention


Accession of Russia to the 1980 Child Abduction Convention

The  1980 Child Abduction Convention was acceded on the basis of the Federal Law of May 31, 2011 No. 102-ФЗ “On the accession of the Russian Federation to the Hague Convention on Civil Law Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980”. The Convention entered  into force for Russia on October 1, 2011.  For the list of countries which has accepted  the accession of Russia visit the hcch website.

 Objectives and structure of the Convention

The Convention consists of 45 articles divided into six chapters. Chapter I defines the scope of the Convention, Chapter II establishes a system of cooperation between the Central Authorities of the Contracting States. Chapter III defines the procedure for obtaining a return order. Chapter IV is devoted to the observance of the right to intercourse and consists of one article (Article 21). Chapter V contains general provisions, and Chapter VI contains standard final clauses.

The Convention is focused on the achievement of several goals, which are referred to in Art.1:

a) ensure the immediate return of children illegally displaced or held illegally in another contracting State;

b) guarantee the observance of custody rights and the right to communicate.

The Convention establishes a procedure for the immediate return of the child to the state of his usual place of residence (preamble), setting some exceptions to the principle of immediate return (Art. 12 (2), Art. 13, Art. 20). Immediate decision-making (within six weeks from the time of appeal) (Art. 11) and the duties of the Central Authorities also serve to protect the interests of the child.

At the same time, the Convention contributes to the formation of the desired model of parental behavior, and as such is of a preventive nature.

Scope of the Convention

The Convention applies to any child under the age of 16 who has had a habitual residence in a contracting state immediately before the violation of custody or access (art. 4).  The concept of “country of habitual residence of the child” is key to the entire Convention. It is according to the law of the country of the child’s habitual residence  that the question, whether the parent had custody of the child (art. 3), and the court of the country of the child’s habitual residence will be competent to decide on the matter of custody (art. 16).   The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where

  • a) it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and
  • b)   at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

It is to be noted that removal and retention are two distinct notions moreover, they are mutually exclusive – an abducting parent either removes or retains a  child.

 The Convention does not define the term ‘custody’ stating in art.5  that for the purposes of this Convention   “rights of custody” shall include rights relating to the care of the person of the child and, in particular, the right to determine the child’s place     of          residence;
It follows from that definition that:

  • the  rights of custody are complex in their nature, one of constituent elements is ‘care of the person of the child’ which also seems to be a core right of custody;
  • the right to determine the child’s place of residence is part of right relating to the  care of the person of the child

The rights of custody, may arise in particular by operation of law or by reason of a judicial or administrative decision, or by reason of an agreement having legal effect under the law of that State.

The alternate custody where a child resides with  one of his/her parents is out of scope of the Child Abduction Convention 1980, as in this case both parents are entrusted with the right to determine the child’s place of residence.  When the Child Abduction Convention was envisaged, such situations were very rare,  but now they are becoming more and more often.

Habitual residence of a child     The Russian legislation does not know this exact term, instead two terms – thath of the place of living and that  the place of residence are used in civil law and migration law. Besides, the chapter  VII of the  Family Code dealing with the private international law,  refers to a permanent place of residence of a person.

The summary return mechanism

 It is laid down in art. 12: ” Where a child has been wrongfully removed or retained in terms of Article 3 and, at the date of the commencement of the proceedings before the judicial or administrative authority of the Contracting State where the child is, a period of less than one year has elapsed from the date of the wrongful removal or retention, the authority concerned shall order the return of the child forthwith“.

Exception to the mechanism are stated in art.13:  The judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body which opposes its return establishes that

a) the person, institution or other body having the care of the person of the child was not actually exercising the custody rights at the time of removal or retention, or had consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention;or
b) there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

The grave risk exception in Russian juducial practice

The grave risk (or intolerable situation) exception has been given very broad interpretation in Russian judicial practice.

F.ex., the Dzerjinskiy court of St-Petersburg in a case №2-3602/16  dated the  27th October   2016 had to deal with the question of return of a 3 years old girl to her British  father in Spain. The judge referring to art. 13 (1)(b) of the Hague Convention and the principle 6 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959  concluded that  separation with the mother would amount to an “intolerable situation” for a child, thus dismissing the applicant’s claim. The applicant complained to the ECHR. In its judgment Thompson  v. Russia of 30/03/2021  the Court noticed that in interpreting and applying the art. 13 (b), the national  courts failed to secure repect for family life of the applicant.

On 25 March 2016 the Tverskoy court of Moscow heard the case №2-1446/2016 about return of a two-year old child to his father in Spain. The  court held  that return of the child to Spain would separate him from his mother  and, having taken into account the age of the child and his attachment to his mother such separation would place him into an intolerable situation according to art. 13  (1) (b) of the 1980 Hague Convention.

On 24 April 2017 the same court heard the case №02-3328/2017 about  return of a  4-years old boy to his father in Israel. The mother of a child alleged that a bad health condition of a minor posed a serious threat of harm to him.  The medical documents confirmed that a child had delayed speech development, emotional and behavioral difficulties, hyperactivity. The court  referred to art.13 (1) (b) of the Hague Convention 1980, and the return of the child to his father in Israel was denied”.  The applicant complained to the ECourtHR appl. №34176/18 E.D. v. Russia, communicated on the 22 October 2018.

The typical situation when the exception under art. 13 (1) (b) comes into play is domestic violence (https://assets.hcch.net/docs/582a0181-c82c-4398-988d-4e7bf469f9de.pdf).

The judicial or administrative authority may also refuse to order the return of the child if it finds that the child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of its views.

The procedural questions

Due to the complexity and specific character of such cases, the Russian legislator applied the principle of concentration of cases and introduced the so called “centralized jurisdiction” , so there are 8  courts  competent to hear return/access cases.

The right to bring a return/access claim pertains to a parent – victim of the abduction  and to a prosecutor.  However, due to the lack of relevant provisions in the Public Prosecution Act, entrusting a prosecution officer to bring a return/access claim,  the provision of art. 244 of the Code of civil procedure remains “dormant”.

 The return/access proceedings are exempt from  court fee.

Art. 244.15 of the Code of civil procedure  provides that proceedings under the  Child Abduction Convention  shall not exceed 42 days.  It is an adversarial proceedings,  and  a single judge states on the merits of a case.  While  art. 244.16 of the Code of civil procedure lays down  that a return judgment must describe the return procedure of a child, in practice the judgments are usually very scarcely formulated like “the defendant is ordered to hand the minor and his/her birth certificate over to the plaintiff”.

In this regard the experience of other States appears to be very useful. F.ex., due to modification to the Civil Procedure Code of the Czech Republic there  appeared a possibility to set up in a return judgment  a detailed schedule allowing a child to get used to the left-behind parent through meetings supervised by a child protection authority or a mediation service (plán navykacího režimu, § 272, 273).

Procedural time-limit for an appeal is 10 days, an appellate proceeding can not exceed one month (art. 244.17).

Art. 244. 15 provides for an obligatory participation of a child protection authority and a prosecution office at a court hearing. It is to be noted that there are number of cases where  the prosecution office has not supported   return claims ( f.ex. decision on appeal of the St-Petersbourg city court case №2-343/17 about return of a child to Germany,  decision on appeal of the Novosibirsk regional court case  №2-4896/2017 about return of 2 children to New Zealand). On the contrary,  see the judgment (in Russian) in appeal of the Nizhegorodsky regional court, where the prosecution office upheld the claim for return of a child to France.

Implementing art. 16 and 19 of the 1980 Hague Convention,  para.7 art. 215 of the  Code of civil procedure provides for a  motion to a court hearing a custody dispute from a court adjudicated the abduction case. Hence, a court must postpone for 30 days the proceedings of a custody dispute if the Russian Central Authority notifies about receipt of a return/access application. However, the Russian Central Authority is able to notify a relevant court  only inasmuch as it knows  which particular court is adjudicating a custody dispute, which is not always the case.


1) The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is more than welcome to adopt  the Practice Guide of the 1980 and 1996 Hague Conventions application  in Russia;

2) The Supreme Court is to assign one of the judges as a liaison – judge with the International Network of Judges. Participation of a Russian judge will eventually facilitate a holistic application of the  1980 Hague Convention, allowing in particular  “mirror” orders to be taken, until now unknown to the Russian judicial system;

3) The principle of concentration should be interpreted as applying to all authorities concerned (child protection authorities, enforceJment agents). It will facilitate setting aside stereotypes relating to family, which   do not easily fit into the solution to international child abduction envisaged by the Child Abduction Convention;

4) Public prosecution office should become involved as a principal stake-holder with a more Child Abduction Convention-center approach.

© 2020 Daria Borminskaya

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