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Child Relocation: Within and Outside the UK

Henry David Thoreau

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

When a relationship ends, parents might have substantially different ideas about what they believe are the best arrangements for their children, depending on their own circumstances or future plans.  What happens when you can’t agree, and one parent decides to move from their current home to somewhere else with the United Kingdom, or even to another country outside the United Kingdom?

In any circumstances, child relocation can prove to be a very difficult step to consider emotionally for either parent, especially if it is something imposed out of the parent’s control, such as redundancy or a change of job, or due to a parent meeting a new partner who lives far away, as opposed to a parent wishing to have a fresh start somewhere new. 

No two cases are alike, and the facts and circumstances will differ for each family. There is no presumption in favour of a move where it might be said a child is living with a parent who is the “main carer” and similarly no presumption against such a move if care is shared. Whatever the situation, the Family Court is clear that any such decision needs to be determined in accordance with what is the child’s best interests, rather the wishes of the parents, and it does this by applying the “welfare checklist” section 1(3) Children Act 1989, which includes, but is not limited to: the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child; the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs; the likely effect of any change in circumstances, and the range of powers available to the Court.

Prohibited Steps Order

What is clear is that any parent acting unilaterally, that is, without agreement of the other parent, risks the court taking steps to change any move that is intended or has recently taken place. The court can intervene by granting a Prohibited Steps Order that acts like an injunction, or possibly grant a Specific Issue and/or Child Arrangements Order requiring a parent to return to the “status quo” as it existed before any move took place. If a child is removed from the United Kingdom without permission of the other parent, then the parent removing the child could be found guilty of child abduction and therefore obtain a criminal record.

Regardless of whether any move is to another part of the United Kingdom or overseas, the parent seeking to relocate with a child of the family must have the consent of the other parent, or leave (permission) of the Family Court if the other parent opposes such a move. Whether relocation within the United Kingdom or overseas, the court deal with the applications in a similar manner, recognising in some circumstances that a move abroad may be easier to manage in practical terms, than a move to a more remote part of the United Kingdom.  The Family Court expects any proposal to relocate a child to be fully and carefully considered, with detailed evidence of new living arrangements, schooling and most importantly, proposals for the child to spend time and maintain contact with the parent left behind. 

As such, it is very important that if agreement cannot be reached, and with the assistance of mediation if necessary, early legal advice is obtained, whether you are a parent looking to relocate or a parent seeking to oppose such a move. A decision made or failure to act at the outset might make a big difference in the court’s finely balanced decision-making, and thus the outcome for you and your child.

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If you need any assistance in regards to international child relocation, contact our expert team.

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