Can the Police Help Parents Get Their Child Back From an Ex?

Craig Turvey, Senior Associate at Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers, answers the commonly asked question of whether the police can help parents get their child back from an ex. He also looks into how this can affect the relationship between the parties.


Saying goodbye to a child as they leave to spend time with their other parent can create mixed emotions. Perhaps satisfaction, as parents appreciate the importance of the child building a healthy and loving relationship with the other parent; but, also, some trepidation. What if that parent will not return the child at the conclusion of their agreed time together?

As a family lawyer, this is a commonly asked question; particularly during the early stages of separation when emotions run high and mistrust is the norm.

The answer to that question is simple: no, the police will not return the child to the other parent. If there is a family law dispute, it is not the role of the police to facilitate parenting arrangements. It is only in very specific circumstances, where a recovery order has been made by a court and the Australian Federal Police are directed to recover children, that the police become involved.

This advice often concerns clients, who may feel they have few options if the other parent behaves badly. However, in my experience, it is very rare for parents to attempt to indefinitely withhold a child. More often, due to poor communication between parents or some temporary defiance, a parent will briefly withhold a child until the parents collectively agree to:

  • return to the pre-existing regime; or
  • review the child’s arrangements, often with the assistance of a family dispute resolution practitioner.

I do not recommend that clients ever withhold a child to gain some form of leverage during negotiations; it creates further mistrust between parents, it may confuse or upset your child, and it is a horrible look if you are ever involved in parenting proceedings in the family law courts.

If a parent is ever concerned about the children’s safety while they are in the other parent’s care, they can request that the police perform a welfare check. This involves the police attending the other parent’s residence and making a preliminary assessment as to whether the children are at risk of harm. If the children do not appear to be at risk, the police will leave and take no further action.

If you have a client experiencing conflict with their ex about parenting matters, please do not hesitate to contact Craig Turvey or one of our other family lawyers to assist.

Craig Turvey advises clients in complex property settlement matters involving trusts and corporate entities. He regularly prepares binding financial agreements and other documents to formalise property settlements for his clients and he has a strong commercial focus.

Craig has considerable experience in children’s matters and has represented clients in the Magellan Program, which involves the most serious child abuse cases.

While he prefers to resolve matters by way of negotiation if possible, Craig regularly appears in contested proceedings in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court to protect his clients’ interests.

Craig has been recognised as a Family Law Rising Star for 2018 in the Doyle’s Guide to the Australian Legal Profession.

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