This is a complex area of family law. International relocation issues arise where there is a dispute between two parents of a child if one parent intends to move with the child to a different country, and the other objects to the child moving with that parent. Relocation cases can be particularly challenging because of their binary nature - either the child moves to a new location or stays where he or she is.
While each case turns on its own facts, practitioners tend to recognise five main factual patterns in relocation cases:
Although cases often fall into one of the broad categories above, no two cases are identical and they will not necessarily develop or be decided in the same way as a previous case in court. However, the motivation for the parent who wishes to move will be extremely relevant.
It is strongly inadvisable to relocate without written agreement from all individuals who have parental responsibility for a child (or alternatively the permission of the court) as this runs the risk of the move being regarded as child abduction. If a parent who wishes to relocate cannot obtain this written consent, then the court’s permission is required and an application should be made.
The welfare of the child in question will be the ‘paramount consideration’ of the court as a matter of principle. Alongside this, however, the court will consider the following factors:
The court will also look at issues relating to the child’s welfare such as ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child who is to relocate, the likely effect on him or her of the change in circumstances and how capable each of the parents are of meeting the child’s needs.
Other issues which may arise will be the enforceability of any order setting out arrangements for the child in the new country to see the left-behind parent/wider family and what approach the court in that country may take towards issues of residence and contact if the case ended up being litigated there in the future.
This will, in a number of ways, depend upon the circumstances. For example, if it is a ‘going home’ situation, it is important that the parent who wishes to relocate explains to the other parent (and to the court if necessary) how they feel about living in their present location and how going home will benefit them and the child. If the purpose of the relocation is to pursue a specific opportunity, such as a new job, they may wish to explain how they (and indirectly, the child) will benefit from taking up the opportunity, as well as setting out how being unable to take up the opportunity would impact on them. For example, what does the new opportunity offer that the current job does not? In a ‘new partner’ case, the parent applying to move will need to set out the nature and duration of the relationship with the new partner, the benefits of moving and the effects of not being allowed to move both on them and the child. Finally, in a ‘lifestyle’ case, the parent applying to move must again stress the benefits of the move and the disadvantages of being forced to stay in the same location.
Other practical points to consider are where the parent who wishes to relocate would live with the child, where the child would go to school, what work would be available to the parent, what support they would have from family and friends in the new location and how they propose that the child would maintain relationships with both parents.
Timing is important. If it is not possible to reach an agreement with the other parent on relocating the child and an application to the court becomes necessary, it may take up to ten months between making an application and the case being decided. The court process is also extremely expensive for the parent who is applying for permission to relocate. A much better solution is usually therefore to try to agree about the relocation with the other parent without litigating. If this is not possible, it is hugely important that the parent who wishes to relocate consults with a specialist solicitor experienced in representing parents in relocation cases at a very early stage. Any application to the court should not be delayed unduly if the other parent is unlikely to agree, particularly where a plan to relocate is time critical (for example, where a child is starting a new school or where an employment opportunity has a specific start date).