If a parent had asked me the question “After my divorce, can I move to another part of the country with my child?’’ a few months ago I would have said “Yes you can”, unless the family situation was complicated.
As a Manchester children solicitor it is always hard to explain to a parent why different rules apply if, after a separation or divorce, you want to relocate in the UK or abroad with your child.
The law and moving within the UK with a child
The law on relocating with a child within the UK not always clear. Imagine the scenario of a parent who wants to move from Manchester to Cornwall. Anyone who has made the trip by car, train, coach or plane knows that it is far easier and quicker to get to some locations in France or Spain than get to Cornwall.
Until recently, our children solicitors’ advice would have been that it was unlikely that a court would stop the primary or main carer of a child from moving within the UK. That advice was given whether it was a move from Cheshire to Derbyshire or further afield, for example, to Devon.
The only reported family court cases where a parent, usually the mother, had been prevented from moving within the UK with a child was when there were highly exceptional circumstances. For example, the child had a disability.
The internal relocation of children and the case of BB V CC
The case that is proving of such interest to Manchester children solicitors is that of a 3-year-old little boy in a family court case labelled ‘’BB V CC’’.
The mother and father separated and the move took the child from South East England to the North. Court proceedings were started. The court made a shared custody or child arrangements order and said the mother would need to move back to the south with the child so that shared custody with the father would work.
The child’s mother appealed against the decision.
The facts of most family cases are a little more complex than the bare bones. In family cases, it can be the detail that sways a judge’s decision. In every family court case, the decision has to be about what is in a child’s best interests.
In the case of BB V CC, the parents had an arranged marriage. The mother came to the UK to live with her husband at the paternal family home in London. When the child was about one the parents separated. The mother relocated to the North.
The father saw this as child abduction as the mother had not discussed the plan with him. The mother made serious allegations of domestic violence against the father and his parents.
The court decided that the allegations of domestic violence against the paternal family were not established. The judge was concerned that parental alienation might take place if the father was not able to share the care of the little boy.
The court ordered temporary contact but said the mother should relocate back to the southeast, near to where the father resided.
The court said if the mother did not move back to the southeast with the child the court would think about giving the father custody of the child.
The mother appealed against the judge’s decision. She said there were no exceptional circumstances that should require her to relocate with the child within the UK.
The appeal judge decided that the care of the little boy should be shared. The court said it was not possible for both parents to share the care of their son and live at other ends of the country. The judge therefore refused the mother’s appeal.
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Parental alienation and moving after divorce
In the court judgment, the judge said she thought that parental alienation might take place if the mother stayed in the northeast and brought up the child with infrequent contact with his father.
The judge said the child could suffer emotional harm if parental alienation took place.
Internal relocation and exceptional circumstances
The judge in the case of BB V CC considered the case law and decided that a children case did not have to be exceptional in order to make an internal relocation order.
The judge said that the court should assess what was in the child’s best interests, and that the child’s welfare should be the court’s paramount concern.
Opposing the internal relocation of children
The court decision of BB V CC is likely to increase the number of parents wanting to bring court applications to try to use the court process to stop a parent and child from moving within the UK.
Our children solicitors anticipate that, for parents wanting to move, it will be argued that the case of BB V CC should be looked at on its family facts. Namely the judge’s dismissal of the allegations of domestic violence and her concerns about parental alienation by the mother if the child was brought up a long distance away from the father.
The law and relocating abroad with a child
The law says that if a parent wants to take a child abroad to live then they need the written agreement of the other parent or a court order giving them permission to take the child abroad to live.