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Breaching family law and parenting orders

Helping to prevent children from being unlawfully taken from Australia

Family law offences

Our jurisdiction extends to certain parts of family law when children involved in family law matters travel or go missing.

Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), it is an offence to take or send a child from Australia when either:

  • there is an order limiting or preventing the child's overseas travel
  • court proceedings for a parenting order are pending
  • an appeal against a parenting order is pending.

It's also an offence to keep a child outside Australia where a court order is in place or court proceedings are pending.

If your child is overseas in violation of the Family Law Act, this becomes a criminal matter to investigate and you should report it to us

Report a crime form

These family law offences have a penalty of up to 3 years imprisonment.

Our role

Our primary role in family law matters is to prevent the unlawful removal of children from Australia. We do this through:

  • the Family Law Watchlist
  • recovery orders
  • arrest warrants.

We can't enforce parenting orders or provide legal advice. We work with families often, so we understand how sensitive and distressing family law matters can be.

If you're worried that a child is in immediate danger, call000 to speak to your state or territory police.

Family Law Watchlist

If you're concerned your child may be taken overseas without your consent, you can place them on the Family Law Watchlist while they're still in Australia. This means we will know if they try to travel.

Find out how to place a child on the Watchlist and understand your responsibilities when travelling with a child on the Family Law Watchlist.

Recovery orders

A court can issue recovery orders under the Family Law Act. This means the court can direct officers to locate and deliver a child to the person nominated on the order. These officers could be:

  • marshals of the court
  • AFP officers
  • state or territory police officers.

We work on recovery orders from all state and territory branches of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, except Western Australia.

The Family Court of Western Australia deals with family law matters in that state, and refers all recovery orders to the Western Australia Police, no matter the child's location.

In all other states and territories, we work alongside state and territory police on many Australian family law matters. Sometimes, the state or territory police are more suitable to respond to an order.

Recovery orders are valid for 12 months unless otherwise stated. The order can be legally executed more than once.

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has more information on recovery orders.

Get legal advice if you want to apply for a recovery order.

Asking the AFP to help with a recovery order

We understand that the recovery process is a difficult time for you.

We can only act on a recovery order once the court has issued it. You have to send us the order and a recovery order information sheet.

Before we act on a recovery order, we need to know the background details of your situation. This keeps our team safe and can help us find your child.

To request our help with a recovery order:

  1. Obtain a court-issued recovery order
  2. Complete a recovery order information sheet in as much detail as possible 
    File icon
  3. Attach the court-issued recovery order
  4. Attach digital photographs of your child.

Send the completed form and attachments to

Recovering your child

You won't be present while we recover your child. But you'll need to be close by and ready to receive them. This is especially important if your child is young, has a disability or does not speak English. This may mean you need to travel to where your child is.

If we have to travel with your child after recovery, you must pay the costs of travel, food or accommodation for the child. If you can't receive the child, we must decide if we'll complete the recovery.

If you don't know where your child is

We may suggest other court orders to help with our investigations if you don't know your child's location. These include:

  • location orders for a person to give the court information about a child's location
  • Commonwealth information orders for a government department to give the court information they may have about a child's location
  • publication orders for the media to publish details and photographs of the missing child and the person they are believed to be with.

Having a recovery order doesn't necessarily mean a crime has been committed, which may limit our ability to access information.

Discuss your options with your lawyer.