When Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner along with a Channel Nine 60 Minutes crew set out to Lebanon to recover Ms Faulkner’s children from her ex-husband, little did they know the trouble they would then find themselves in. Ms Faulkner alleges her ex-husband Ali Elamine failed to return their two children to Australia as promised following a holiday in Lebanon. Ms Faulkner engaged organisation Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) to return the children to her. 60 Minutes planned to film the recovery. In what may have been framed to Ms Faulkner as a simple child recovery operation quickly escalated when she, the crew and reporter Tara Brown were arrested for kidnapping.

Charges were formally filed against Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team who were imprisoned while investigations were underway. The 60 Minutes team and Ms Faulkner were released after two weeks in prison and have returned to Australia after Mr Elamine dropped the charges against them in return for Ms Faulkner not contesting custody.

When a child custody case becomes an international criminal case

Ms Faulkner had previously been granted sole custody of the children by the Family Court of Australia, however as this case reveals, this won’t necessarily protect her outside of Australia. Child custody cases are dealt with differently depending on the jurisdiction. The media is reporting that Mr Elamine was granted his own custody ruling from a religious court in Lebanon though it is unclear when this was granted.

As a standalone custody battle, the fact that it is international in nature is challenging enough. Add to that the nature of the recovery operation and things are further complicated. It is clear from the charges and comments from the judge that this case is not being treated as a simple child custody case. As the judge said, “It’s not a custody dispute. This is a criminal matter. These people have broken the law.”

What was the outcome?

Sadly Ms Faulkner was left with no other choice but to commit to not contesting custody in return for her kidnapping charges to be dropped. And while the 60 Minutes team have returned to Australia and the charges against them have been dropped, there may be significant legal and liability issues going forward, especially since it has since emerged that a direct payment was made from Channel Nine to CARI which may implicate them further in the case. This case illustrates one of the major challenges of international custody cases – the law applies differently from one country to another. The lesson for those facing similar challenges is to tread carefully and get advice before taking any action.

If you find yourself facing an international child custody case and have questions about next steps to take please contact Owen Hodge Lawyers at 1800 770 780 to schedule a consultation or visit their website.

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