Relocating with your child after separation
During any separation or divorce, one of the primary concerns will be the impact on any children. It is unavoidable that change will occur in everybody’s lives, and there may be the time when you decide that a relocation is appropriate. Perhaps you will be unable to continue to afford to live in the area you currently do, or you want to relocate to be closer to family and friends that can provide you and your child with additional support.
Whatever your reasons, it is important to obtain early legal advice on your options. Amanda Dench and Michelle Uppal, divorce, family and children law experts at Miles & Partners Solicitors in London explain what your initial considerations should be.
‘If you are thinking of relocating with your child, whether to another country or just another county, then it is important that you consider how your child will adapt to life in a new location,’ says Amanda.
You need to think about what GP and dentist they will register with, what clubs they may join, what hobbies they can participate in, as well as where you will actually live and who will be on hand to help out with any childcare that is needed. Give thought to what schools they can attend and if a move now is likely to impact on their education or upcoming exams. If you are moving with a young child to a non-English speaking country, your former partner may have real concerns that a language barrier will develop with their child. English lessons, or attendance at an international school may provide reassurance on this aspect.
In addition to the above, it is vitally important that you consider how your child will maintain their relationship with your former partner. The court will need to be assured that the intended move is not an attempt to exclude your former partner from your child’s life.
“You should have a plan for contact,” says Michelle, “Especially if you will be relocating far away which will make it difficult for your child and former partner to maintain direct contact.”
If you do intend moving far away, where regular direct contact will not be practical, then it can be helpful to utilise modern technology. Although no substitution for face-to-face contact, the use of video calls can be a better way to maintain regular indirect contact than just phone calls. Picture messaging should also be considered as sending photographs of the child or even photographs of their latest art homework can help your former partner and child connect.
You will also need to look at the practicalities of how and when direct face-to-face contact will occur. It will be important for your child to physically spend time with their other parent. You should factor the cost and method of travel, how this will be paid for and who will be responsible for accompanying your child (if needed). If a direct train or flight route is available, it may mean contact can occur more easily and at a lower cost. It is also important to think about the actual venue of contact. If it is intended your former partner will travel to your new location, then think about if there is adequate affordable accommodation for them to stay while contact occurs.
After researching the above, if you decide that relocation is still best then you should speak to your former partner and seek their consent to the move. If they hold parental responsibility and will not consent to your relocation plans, then you should speak to a solicitor who can advise you if your former partner holds parental responsibility as well as the appropriateness and requirements for mediation in your circumstances.
If you are relocating to outside the UK, known as external relocation, and your former partner does not consent, then you will be required to apply to the courts for a specific issue order. Failing to do this can have very serious consequences and may even lead to a prosecution for child abduction.
If you are relocating within the UK, known as internal relocation, your former partner can object to the move by applying to court for a prohibited steps order. If granted, this would prevent you from relocating. You can, of course, counter this with your own application for a specific issue order.
In either the case of internal or external relocation, a specific issue order, if granted, will permit you to move. The law, in both internal and external relocations, requires that the court must place the welfare of the child as their paramount concern.
Amanda advises ‘This is when your early research will pay off. The court will need to be sure that this move has been well thought out, is in the best interests of your child and that you have considered all aspects of how the relocation will impact on your child including your child’s contact with their other parent.’
It will also be relevant, although not decisive, for the court to consider the impact on the child in a home with a parent who has been forced into the unhappy situation of not living where they wish. Depending on your child’s age, significant weight may also be attached to their own wishes and feelings on the matter.
All cases will turn on their own specific facts. It is crucial to obtain early advice to avoid last minute dashes to court, which could significantly delay or impact your relocation plans.
For further information, please contact Amanda Dench or Michelle Uppal in the family law team on 020 7426 0400 or email directly.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.