A new job opportunity, a new relationship or desire to return home can often bring about a decision about moving after the breakdown of a relationship – either within the UK or abroad and if you have a child this is even more complicated. It is often a very difficult choice which has to be made. Unless, unusually, the other parent is willing to move too, the decision will invariably result in the child spending less time with the other parent. Making a decision to move therefore must be made with very careful consideration about what is best for the child, usually with the consent of any other person with parental responsibility and early and detailed planning is absolutely essential.
There are slightly different considerations if you are moving within the UK or abroad, for example it is a criminal offence to move abroad with a child without seeking the consent of the other parent. If you don’t seek consent, you may end up involved in abduction proceedings. Even for a move within the UK, it is usually best to seek the consent of the other parent, save that in some cases there may be other considerations so it is worth taking very early advice. A court will not look kindly on underhand behaviour. Whether you will need consent also depends on if there is an existing child arrangements order in place. If and when you do secure consent, obtain the consent in writing as this may prove as useful evidence or if they later change their mind – and preferably consent given after having received legal advice.
Think carefully before agreeing to the other parent moving the child temporarily even within the UK, if a child becomes settled in another location it can sometimes be difficult to persuade the court that it would be in their best interests to be uprooted for a second time. If a parent notifies you they are moving but you do not agree, make your objection clear in writing and consider applying to the court urgently to stop them until the move can be properly assessed and a decision made. Start to think about the reasons you oppose the move.
Not only is the ability to co-parent effectively positive for your child, for a relocation with a child to have the best chances of success, it is essential that your relationship with the other parent is one where either they trust you enough to agree for you to make the move, or for you to be able to persuade the court that you will promote the relationship with the other if you are allowed to move. You must be able to prove that the move is not motivated by some desire to limit the contact with the other parent. Your behaviour after separation and approach towards the other parent may therefore come under the spotlight, consider carefully the tone of written and verbal communications and always endeavour to be positive towards your ex-partner as a parent, even if the relationship did not end on such good terms. Consider attending a separating parent information course, to help understand the break-up from your child’s point of view and to learn principles of how to manage and reduce the impact of conflict on your children.
Before you speak to the other parent, try to compile your reasons for the move as clearly as you can. It is essential to be well prepared and come up with a carefully considered plan with evidence in support. Firstly, you will need to be able to explain why you wish to move and to show that the move is not motivated by a desire to exclude the other parent. You will need to be able to present well researched plans including where will you live, why you are proposing to move, where the children will go to school or nursery, what the new location is like and the extracurricular benefits it will bring, how far you will be from the other parent, how you will promote contact with the other parent and very importantly what proposals you will put in place for revised arrangements going forward. If you are moving abroad, it is also important to consider the safeguards and enforceability of any orders in that place, any language barriers or other issues that may cause concern. Not only will the child lose time with one of their parents, but there are also other losses they will face such as friendships, school teachers and other paternal or maternal family relations. Consider how these losses will be managed, and what benefits the move will bring.
Whilst direct discussions may become fraught, in some cases it may be possible to negotiate an agreement either through a lawyer or in mediation. Mediation involves an independent third party facilitating discussions between you. If you cannot agree arrangements then it is possible to apply to the court or to consider arbitration. Unless the application is urgent or other exemptions apply, then it will be necessary to attend mediation to try and resolve an agreement before applying to the court. In either case, it is sensible to be prepared with your research and evidence before you embark on these processes. Your lawyer will be able to advise you of the process which is most suitable to you.
The type of court application to be made will also depend on whether or not there is a child arrangements order already in place. There are a range of applications which can be made – this might include to ask the court for permission to relocate with the child, to seek an injunction to stop the other parent from removing the child from a school or location, or to determine where it is best for a child to live or go to school.
The court’s primary focus is welfare and what is best for the child – the court will weigh up all the factors, look at your case and circumstances as a whole, including your own proposals and those of the opposing parent on its own merits, and determine the course which best meets the needs of your child to afford paramount consideration to your child’s welfare.
It is a complex area of law and will vary from case to case, so it is worth taking early advice on how best to conduct your research and formulate proposals. If you are on the receiving end of this request, it is important to act quickly and consider what interim steps need to be taken.