Newcastle’s Top Children’s Lawyer Specialist, Anna Hunter comments in the North East Times

With the long school break upon us, the British holiday season reaches its frenzied peak, but for some families, it heralds a time where children travel to another country, not just for a holiday in the sun, but to spend time with a parent who lives abroad.

The world is a small place these days, and relationships between people from different countries are far from unusual. But the impact on children when such relationships break down can be far reaching.  People often assume that if they move to another country and things don’t ultimately work out, they can simply return home. When children are added to the equation, this can lead to years of stress and heartache for all concerned, usually because only one parent wants to move overseas.

The law is clear: where more than one person has parental responsibility for a child, the parent seeking to move to another country with their child must obtain the express formal agreement of all those with parental responsibility.  If the child is removed without such agreement, that is child abduction.   In the absence of agreement, the parent who wishes to relocate must make an application to the Court.

Until recently, English law placed itself in the somewhat peculiar position of taking a different stance to many other legal jurisdictions in giving particular weight to the impact of a refusal of permission upon the emotional and psychological welfare of the child’s primary carer.  There has been considerable controversy about the English approach, and both domestic and international criticism of English decisions permitting relocation even when the move is likely to result in very limited contact between the child and the parent left behind.

As a result of recent judgements, English law has now been brought more in line with internationally recognised good practice and now, where an application to the court is necessary, the primary consideration of the court is the welfare of the child. Whilst this is a significant step, the issue of international relocation remains fraught with difficulties and it clear that whatever decision or agreement is made relocating with children is often a painful and distressing time for all involved, and particularly for the parent remaining at home.

Recent significant studies conducted into the effects of international relocation found that for children of many age groups, seeing a parent again after what seems like a prolonged absence can feel strange. Travelling from far away locations regularly can impact on the child and sometimes the idea of a long, tiring journey, to an unfamiliar environment can cause a strain on relationships Sustaining a relationship from a distance can be difficult for a child although Skype/Facetime now make maintaining regular and informal communication less difficult

Much will depend on the state of the relationship between the parents.  Anxiety in the parent remaining can be considerably reduced where the relocating parent is committed to the relationship between the child and the other parent.  Where the relationship is less amicable a move to a country far away with children can be very difficult to come to terms with.

The court can attach conditions to an order permitting relocation, but these can be difficult to enforce and not all countries have effective methods for supporting those conditions. Many left-behind parents find that it is too easy for the parent who has relocated to ignore or circumvent promises or agreements that have been reached, which in turn impacts significantly on the relationship between parent and child.

In an increasingly multicultural society, it is more important than ever to give careful thought to what will happen to the children when a relationship breaks down.

Written by Anna Hunter, Associate and Collaborative Child lawyer Specialist at Major Family Law, Ponteland, NE20 9SU.

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