Child Relocation Law

It is not uncommon to be contacted by anxious parents who have been told that their ex-partner is moving and taking the children abroad. Child relocation laws are here to protect everybody involved in the scenario of a child

Child Relocation Law: Moving To Live Abroad With Your Child

Put simply, if you want to take your child to live in a foreign country after your separation or divorce then you either need:

  • The agreement of every other person who has parental responsibility for the child or
  • A court order allowing the child to relocate abroad.

Do I need the other parent’s permission or a court order?

If a parent decides to leave the UK and relocate abroad without the agreement of the other parent or permission from a court then the parent may commit a criminal offence of child abduction, highlighting the importance of understanding child relocation law.

Lots of people think it is scaremongering to talk about criminal offences and abduction when the issue involves taking your child to live abroad. After all, parents have rights but so does the other parent and they are entitled to object to the move. The court may agree with you that a child custody relocation is in your child’s best interests if you prepare the grounds for your move.

Child Relocation Law Tips

Many of these tips are self-evident but when you’ve separated or divorced from a partner, it can help to go back to basics and check that you have done the obvious:

  • Prepare – this is important whether you speak to your ex-partner about your proposed move or before you make a court application for court permission to relocate abroad with your child;
  • Give yourself enough time – this isn’t always possible if there is a sudden job move abroad foisted on you by your employer but, if possible, do your research on location, homes, schooling, culture and most importantly how contact between your child and your ex-partner would work after your move. This needs to be done before you speak to your ex-partner or make a court application;
  • Make a court application – Give yourself time to make a court application because if you can’t get the other parent’s agreement to a child custody relocation it could take several months for the court to decide whether or not to give your child permission to move abroad;
  • Don’t leave with haste –  However tempting that option appears to be, many parents assume that as their ex-partner has very little to do with the children it will be ok to move abroad as after all they are the main carer. Whilst a gung-ho or ‘can do’ attitude is great in some scenarios it can lead to a lot of heartache and expense when it comes to child custody relocation laws;
  • Don’t assume you don’t need permission – Even if you have foreign nationality or your children have dual citizenship. If the children are habitually resident in the UK then you will need your ex-partner’s agreement or a court order to relocate as child custody relocation laws are based on a child’s habitual residence rather than his or her nationality;
  • Be flexible on contact – if you want to relocate abroad with the children you may need to give more when it comes to agreeing on contact time during the school summer holidays or making Skype or Facetime contact part of your new weekly regime;
  • Think about the family – normally it isn’t just the other parent who will be affected by a child’s move abroad. Thinking about how stepchildren or grandparents or cousins would be impacted by your child’s move will help you come up with solutions to make the move work for the family.

What do I need to get the court permission on a child relocation law application?

If you can’t get the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility for your child to move abroad then you will need to lodge an application at court to explain what you would like the court to order. You may also be asked to file a detailed statement setting out why you believe the move abroad is in your child’s best interests and how you anticipate the parent being left behind will be able to spend time with the child.

What happens if court permission to relocate abroad is refused?

Many parents assume that the court is deciding whether or not the parent can move abroad. That’s not the case – the court can only decide what is in a child’s best interests and make orders relating to the child under child custody relocation orders. If the court refuses permission the parent can;

  • Leave without the child and decisions then have to be taken about how often the child can see the parent who is moving abroad, the opposite to what would have happened if the court had given permission to relocate;
  • Appeal against the court decision refusing permission for the child to move abroad;
  • Wait and ask for court permission at a later date.

Child custody relocation and contact orders

If you are successful in getting court permission for your child to relocate abroad with you then the court will normally make a child arrangements order that will set out :

  • What your permission covers – what country you’ve been given permission to take the child to;
  • The contact arrangements – the order can include the frequency of Skype contact, the number of times the other parent can see the child each year and for how long and whether the child can fly unaccompanied etc.;
  • Mirror orders- the court can state that a ‘Mirror Order’ is obtained in the country that the child is relocating to in order to ensure that if the court order isn’t complied with the court order can be enforced in the country you have relocated to. 

If I don’t follow child custody relocation laws what might happen?

A number of countries (currently 83 including England) have signed up to the Hague Convention. If a country has signed up to The Hague Convention and a child is taken without parent agreement or court order to another Hague Convention country then the aim, under Hague Convention rules, is  to return child to the country that they have been taken from as quickly as possible. There are limited circumstances where the court may refuse to return the child to their original country.

In practical terms what this means is that if you take your child to live abroad without complying with UK child custody relocation laws you could be forced to return to the UK with your child. The court in the UK would then decide what was in the best interests of your child – to stay in the UK or be given permission to move abroad. It is harder to get permission to take your child to live abroad if you have left and not followed UK child custody relocation laws. That is why it pays to not only prepare and plan for your move abroad with your child but to also get expert legal advice from a children solicitor on your options and how to increase the prospects of successfully getting court permission to relocate abroad with your child.

Contact our expert international family law team today