Joanne Major, Leading Female Family Lawyer and Principal at Major Family Law, North East’s best Divorce and Family Law Specialists, comments in the Northern Insight Magazine when a relationship ends and the parties separate, by definition, this involves one of the parties moving out. When children are involved, the practical and emotional considerations become more complex and arrangements for the children to maintain a healthy and nurturing relationship with the non-resident parent can be a contentious issue for many separated couples.
The pain of separation and the change of environment and routine for children can be more dramatic when the parent with whom they live for the majority of the time decides to move away from the area altogether.
In the modern world, relocation is common for families generally, whether as a result of employment opportunities, aspiration or the forming of a relationship with a person in another country.
This can lead to a great amount of distress and worry when parents have separated and one is facing the prospect of being left behind, many miles from the children they previously spent every day with.
So what are the legalities of this thorny issue? Many facing the situation wonder how the other parent can be allowed to simply up sticks and move to the other side of the country. At the heart of any judicial decision about a child’s relocation is the Children Act principle that the welfare of that child is the paramount consideration, as determined by a number of factors contained within a welfare checklist.
The reality of such situations is somewhat black and white: if relocation is denied, the parent wanting to move will be disappointed and unsettled at the least; if granted, the non-resident parent will be left behind and alone with the risk of a deterioration in the parent child relationship as a result of the distances involved.
If a parent wants to move to another part of England & Wales, they do not need to have the specific consent of the other parent, although they do need to ensure they adhere to any contact arrangements. If the non-resident parent objects to the move, it is for them to apply to the Court. Perhaps because of the geographical extent of England and Wales when compared to other, much larger, countries, case law in this country suggests that in all but extreme cases, a parent who wishes to move to another part of the country with the children against the wishes of the other parent will be allowed to do so, although it is not uncommon for conditions to be placed upon the move, such as specifying extended/holiday contact arrangements between the children and the non-resident parent, as well as travel arrangements to/from the contact, and even that the children should live within a specific region of the area they are moving to.
When the move is to involve crossing borders (international relocation), the legal position is different: the parent seeking to relocate abroad must obtain the consent of every other person with parental responsibility for the children and if the consent is not forthcoming, they must make an application to the Court for permission. In these circumstances, there is no presumption that the application will be granted and the court will look very carefully at the reasons for the move, the arrangements made and the effect of the move on the children, particularly in terms of an ongoing relationship with the non-resident parent.
Like most family situations, there is no broadbrush approach and the decision of the Court will depend on the specific circumstances of each case and the approach of the parties involved.
For those contemplating relocation or facing the possibility of their children relocating, early legal advice is highly advisable, and sometimes a high priority.