Thinking of relocating?

Guidance for parents who wish to relocate in search of a 'fresh start' following divorce.

Following the breakdown of a relationship, it is often considered a good time to make a fresh start. Often, people will think about moving somewhere new and ‘starting again’. Sadly, for separated families with children, making plans to relocate can sometimes be difficult. The importance of seeking early advice from a legal professional with experience in relocation with children cannot be underestimated.

Seeking consent before moving

If you are hoping to move then you may require the consent of every person with parental responsibility for the children before you are able to move. In most cases, it will be just the parents who hold parental responsibility (although some father’s may not) but in some limited circumstances there may be additional others who hold parental responsibility for your children, i.e. a step-parent who has acquired parental responsibility.

If you are planning to move locally then it would be unusual for you to need the consent of the other parent because your move would be unlikely to have too great an impact on the children, i.e. the school they attend, the arrangements for them to spend time with the other parent. It is when you choose to move further afield (within England and Wales) or abroad, then you are likely to require the consent of everyone with parental responsibility. If this consent is not forthcoming, then you may need to make an application to the Court for permission to relocate.

Substantiating reasons to move

If you are the parent wishing to move, you will need to be able to substantiate your reasons for wanting to move and you will need to demonstrate detailed plans for your new life. Often, where one parent was born abroad, they may be looking to return home to a support network and making a case on this basis can be more straightforward as you are hoping to return to a place that is familiar, as opposed to moving somewhere completely new.

However, in any case, whether you intend to move abroad or stay within England and Wales, as part of your application to the court you will need to provide detailed information such as:

  • Where you intend to live
  • Where the children will go to school
  • Where the local doctors and hospitals are
  • Detailed proposals for the children to have contact with the parent left behind.
  • This is simply an example of the type of plans that you will need to have in place but by no means is this an exhaustive list.
  • Seeking advice early & getting timing right

It is crucial that you seek early advice, particularly in a situation where you do not expect consent to be forthcoming from the other parent as these applications can be lengthy and may affect the timings of any proposal you have. Timing is equally sensitive if you believe that the other parent of your children may have plans to relocate and you are not willing to agree to such a move. In this situation, you would be well advised to seek advice in respect of taking immediate protective measures. This is usually done by way of application to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order. In order to obtain such an order, you would have to demonstrate your genuine and real concerns that the other parent had intentions to relocate with the children, without your consent and that there is a real risk that they may simply up and go. An application for a Prohibited Steps Order is often needed to make the parent who wishes to relocate enter into the formal Court procedure, as they will then be advised that they need to make a formal application to the Court for permission to relocate with the children, as opposed to simply just going ahead with their plans.

Child Abduction

If a parent does not seek permission from the Court and does not have consent of the other parent but in any event takes the children abroad, this would be considered child abduction. In this situation, you should take immediate legal advice and it is likely that an urgent application would need to be made to the High Court for the immediate return of the children. Having acted in this way, it would then be more difficult for the parent wishing to relocate to successfully obtain permission from the Court as they may be considered to have already acted in a way that is contrary to the welfare of the children.

Internal Relocation

Internal relocation (to somewhere further afield but within England and Wales) is treated in the same way in that you need to seek permission to relocate if you do not have the consent of the other parent. However, if a parent were to unilaterally move somewhere else in England or Wales with the children and without the consent of the other parent, it can sometimes be difficult to successfully seek the return of those children to their home unless you act quickly. The paramount concern for the court is always the welfare of the children therefore if by the time the matter is heard by the Court, the children are settled in a new home and are attending a new school it may not be in their best interests to be uprooted for a second time and returned to their previous home. This makes it vital for you to seek early advice and take urgent protective steps (as set out above) if you are of the belief that the other parent of your children may have plans to move to another part of England or Wales, as an early application to prevent this may stop them from establishing a new status quo with the children in another part of the country.

Next steps

Taking early legal advice is crucial to a successful application either for permission to relocate or in order to prevent relocation by the other parent. Our family law specialists at SA Law have extensive experience in both domestic and international relocation cases and will be able to assist you should you require any advice.