UK

Child abduction: 'My world collapsed' when my boys were taken

Lady Catherine Meyer
Image caption Lady Meyer says the law is not always applied properly

Increasing numbers of children are getting caught up in international custody battles, with one parent taking their offspring to live a new life abroad - against the wishes of the other parent - a report has said.

Lady Catherine Meyer knows first hand how painful it can be when children are taken abroad. She was separated from her two sons for nine years after her former husband refused to return them from a holiday in Germany.

"Instantly my whole world collapsed," she told the BBC.

"You don't know what to do; you don't know where your children are. It was a complete nightmare."

Lady Meyer had returned to London from Germany after her marriage ended.

She said she had made arrangements for her German ex-husband to return the children, Alexander and Constantin, after the holiday but says she received a letter saying he would not send them back.

'Tip of iceberg'

Because she had custody of the children at the time, she thought the law would be "on her side" in the form of the Hague Convention, which states custody rights should be respected in the child's usual country of residence.

"[I] expected the children to be back in a couple of weeks," she said.

But in the next nine years, Lady Meyer says she saw the children for a total of just 24 hours.

"The problem is you have conventions, countries ratify the conventions but the question is do they apply [them] properly," she said.

Media attention on the case led to other parents with similar problems approaching Lady Meyer, who later married former UK ambassador to Germany and the US, Sir Christopher Meyer.

She now runs the charity Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT) and believes the 180 cases dealt with by the Office for International Family Justice last year may just be "the tip of the iceberg".

She says the legal system does not always help and that parents should realise that it is the children who suffer.

She said: "We constantly hear about fathers' rights, mothers' rights. The parents should realise that it is horrendous for the children."

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