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Child Relocation

Now our relationship has broken down, I want to leave England and relocate permanently to another country.­ If our child is living with me, can I just leave?

No.­ You must obtain the permission of the other parent and anyone else with custody rights before you take the child abroad permanently.­ If not you will probably find yourself embroiled in child abduction proceedings.­

If the other parent is not willing to give his or her permission, you must obtain permission from the Court.­ This will not be granted if the only reason for your wish to move to another country is, in reality, to prevent the child’s other parent from having regular contact with your child.­ Equally you will be given permission to relocate if the only real reason for refusal was to create difficulties for you as the primary residential parent.­

Most often it is a balanced decision about relocation.­ These are some of the toughest, hardest and most emotional issues facing international families.­

What do I have to show to succeed in a relocation application?

To succeed in an application to relocate to another country with your child, you must prove to the Court that you have carefully considered the move and that the relocation is in the best interests of your child.­ You must show that you have considered schooling arrangements for the child and that you have found a suitable home where you could live.­

The English court will expect the parent seeking to relocate to make substantial and generous proposals for contact for the left behind parent, sometimes including the costs of travel and including the making of an order for contact in the other country.­ This requires cooperation of lawyers in each country but is a necessary and expected cost of the relocation.­

Permission to relocate has historically been often given by the English courts but a change in case law in mid-2011 has made it harder, with a greater emphasis now on the best interests of the child.­ Previous law had tended to give priority to the wishes of the parent with whom the child was primarily living.­

A successful application will depend on very good preparation and careful planning of both the proposed move abroad and the proposed application for permission.­ It is a quite technical area of the law with judicial guidelines.­ Consult a specialist lawyer in the very early stages of the planning.­

The other parent has given me permission take our child abroad permanently.­ Should I obtain this in writing?

Definitely.­ It is very wise to do so.­ It is then a permanent record.­ It can be evidence if any allegation of abduction is made subsequently.­ In certain circumstances it may be wise for the permission to state that it is given after legal advice.­ Some countries may require evidence of permission of the other parent to move to that country.­ These matters should be discussed with a lawyer.­

When do these relocation applications tend to arise?

Applications to relocate permanently abroad with a child often arise within international families on parental separation when one parent has come from another country and wishes to return to their home country, perhaps to be near family or to recommence employment or just to be at home, and wishes to take the child.­ Secondly, it arises sometime after parental separation when the primary resident parent has a good opportunity to seek employment abroad including to improve living standards for the parent and child.­ There may be requirements made by international employers for their employees to move countries, and the parent wants to take the child with them.­ Even more problematic are the so-called lifestyle relocations, when post separation one parent has met someone, perhaps has already become engaged or married, and wants to move to the other person’s country, or the parent simply wants to move abroad for a better lifestyle, invariably a warmer climate!­

In all of these situations, the inevitable consequence of the relocation is that the left behind parent has dramatically reduced opportunities for contact and ongoing involvement in the child’s life, education and upbringing and often a much reduced relationship with the child.­ The child loses the present involvement with grandparents or other family members, schools and friends, sports or musical cultures, language and other elements which may be important for the child.­

What is the procedure?

If permission to relocate is not given by the other parent, an application is made to the court for permission (also known as “leave”) to remove the child permanently from the jurisdiction of England and Wales.­ It is known as “leave to remove” or “child relocation”.­ With many international families within England, these applications are quite frequent.­ They are almost always fraught and emotionally difficult for the parents, the child and wider family members and friends.­

I have heard that England is very liberal and generous in allowing relocation applications, in contrast to other countries.­ What is the position?

Until mid-2011, English relocation law had hardly changed over several decades, despite massive changes in parenting and international families.­ Generally, provided the primary residential parent had good plans, well researched, affordable, allowing good, although inevitably lesser, contact with the other parent and it was not prompted by maliciousness to the other parent, leave would normally be given to relocate.­ Of course the court would endeavour to make sure that good alternative contact arrangements are put in place for the other parent, but this would not stop relocation.­

But now the court will look at what is the best interests of the child.­ It will naturally look at what has been the caring arrangements for the child but if there has been any real element of jointly looking after the child, the court will now be more reluctant to allow a relocation.­

Many other countries across the world are restrictive in granting leave.­ Some are, frankly, highly restrictive and hardly ever give permission, especially to a non-national parent seeking to leave.­ The parent then becomes so-called “land locked” in looking after the child.­ Other countries permit relocation but place much greater weight than England on the impact on the left behind parent, the child’s grandparents and other wider family and the effect on family life.­ Some countries give greater weight to the voice of the child.­ Different approaches abroad can be of relevance if on a return after a child abduction the primary residential parent then seeks to relocate and finds it being refused.­

There are no international laws on child relocation, in contrast to child abduction.­


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