Child relocation: the effect on the family

In the immediate aftermath of a parental separation it can feel devastating to not be there every night to read a bedtime story to your child or, if they are older, to help them with their homework. Imagine how much more difficult it is to come to terms with a separation if one parent announces their decision to move abroad with a child. It’s highly unlikely that the parent left in the UK will be able to continue to see the child each week, take the child to ballet or football practice or to be there as a taxi service after the first school dance.

I may paint a vivid picture but that is the reality for the parents I represent in child relocation applications. As a specialist children and child abduction lawyer I am in the privileged position of meeting parents and getting a snapshot of their family lives. That’s necessary to help me gain a real appreciation of why a parent is desperate to move abroad with their child or how not only a parent but the child’s extended family will be effected if a child does move abroad.

What happens if a parent objects to a move abroad?

If one parent wants to move abroad and the other parent objects there are a number of alternatives:

  • The parent can still move abroad – they just can’t take their child with them unless they get the other parent’s agreement or Court permission;
  • The parent could take the child abroad without agreement or Court order – that may amount to a criminal offence under child abduction law and ultimately could lead to the child’s removal from the parent;
  • The parent could apply to Court for permission to take the child abroad to live or the other parent could apply to Court for an order prohibiting the child’s removal from the UK.

Even after Court proceedings have been started it can sometimes be possible to reach an agreement over whether a child should move abroad. It is my job when representing parents facing an application for a child to live in a foreign country to weigh up the chance that the Court application will be successful, and if the prospects are high, to negotiate the best contact arrangements.

How does a Court decide my child’s future?

Whether the Court is deciding on whether your child should move to France or Bermuda or if the child should live with you or their other parent the Court has to look at what the judge thinks is in the child’s best interests taking into account a set of criteria known as the ‘’welfare checklist’’.

When a judge makes the decision if a child should relocate abroad the child’s interests aren’t paramount as the Court has to consider the effect of granting or refusing the application on both parents. That is why it is so important for a solicitor to know all about family life and not only what the child will gain and lose by a move abroad but how the Court decision will impact on each parent.

A parent refused permission to take their child to their country of origin and where all their extended family still live may find the Court refusal more difficult to accept than a parent who wants to move for lifestyle choices or because they have found a new job based abroad.

No two parents are the same and even if the parents of two children in different families have the same amount of contact with their child each week the emotional effect of a move on the parent left behind can be very different; one parent may quickly adapt to travel abroad to see the child and the other may become depressed and unable to come to terms with the Court decision.

Although the Court is focussed on the child’s needs as a lawyer it is my job to not only to look at the Court criteria in relation to the child but also the impact of a decision on the parent I am representing. That’s because if either parent is devastated by the Court decision and can’t come to terms with the ruling then it is bound to have a negative impact on the child. That is something that a Court needs to consider when deciding whether it is in a child’s best interests to move out of the UK.

What next?

If you are a parent contemplating a move abroad with a child or a parent facing a potential Court application then the best option is to get legal advice. The sooner a parent gets specialist advice on the pros and cons of making or opposing a Court application and what steps they and their lawyer will need to do to successfully get permission or to oppose an application the better. It is like many things in life: tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

For advice about taking a child abroad to live or for help in opposing an application please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at louise@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk