Warning for UK nationals relocating abroad with children

As more and more of us are working abroad, travelling and making connections across different continents, the international family is rapidly becoming part of the modern landscape.

On separation, many people think about moving abroad, whether to return to the country where they grew up, for a fresh start or to live with a new partner. However, it is not as straightforward as packing a suitcase, buying a one-way plane ticket and heading to the airport, especially if you have children.

Preparing for a move abroad

If you are thinking of moving abroad, communication with your child’s other parent in advance is vital. International children issues and cross-jurisdictional cases can be costly and complicated and it is advisable to avoid getting embroiled in tricky disputes if possible.

Separation from a partner or spouse will be one of the toughest things that any person will go through. It is often difficult to maintain perspective during the period immediately following a split. Where arrangements for children are an issue, it is always advised to keep the lines of communication open as far as possible and to keep your child’s interests at the heart of all discussions.

Whether you need the permission of your child’s other parent as a matter of law will depend upon your family’s individual circumstances. However, practically speaking, it is always best to get the written consent of the other parent before you move. Otherwise, there is a risk that you may find yourselves embroiled in child abduction proceedings. These can be complicated, stressful and expensive, and could see the court ordering that the child has to return to the UK.

As I have recently highlighted, it is an offence in England and Wales for one parent to remove a child from the country without the other parent’s consent, regardless of who the child has been living with.

Usually the parent staying behind will be worried that they will lose their relationship with the child altogether, that “out of sight” may be “out of mind” and that the child won’t return to spend time in the UK with them. It is therefore important to be as open and honest as possible with regard to your plans. If you cannot discuss this with your former partner directly then try, where appropriate, mediation or another method of dispute resolution, to allay the other parent’s fears and to openly discuss your plans and their concerns. Time invested early on can help both of you understand the other’s motives, often avoid costly and protracted court proceedings.

What factors should be considered?

In all cases involving children, a child’s welfare is of paramount consideration.

When deciding whether to allow a parent to move away from the UK with a child, the practical factors that the court must consider are obviously different to “everyday” cases concerning children arrangements where parents remain local to each other.

The court will look at why the parent wants to move and the reasons why the other parent objects – is the application or the opposition genuine and realistic? The court will consider the impact of both approving and stopping the move on both parents and, most importantly, the child and whether the parent who wants to move abroad will still move even if the child is to stay living here.

The court will also look at the existing arrangements when considering the extent of any impact of granting a move. In cases where parents have been sharing the care of a child more equally the impact upon their relationship with the remaining parent may be greater than those where there is already limited contact.

International cases are viewed differently to relocations between England and Wales and Scotland or Northern Ireland (there are separate considerations that need to be taken into account if a move is contemplated within, or between, these countries).

The court will expect any proposed move to be thoroughly researched and for all of the key factors to have been given detailed consideration. A well thought out and prepared application can make the difference between whether the court supports or objects to a move being made.

Recording the agreement

Even if you do reach an agreement with your former partner about one of you moving abroad, it is vital that you record your arrangements in writing and get the agreement drawn up into a consent order and approved by a judge. This can ensure that not only has the permission to go been recorded but also arrangements concerning contact or other issues that can be part of a Parenting Plan.

Different countries have different rules about recognising and enforcing decisions regarding arrangements for children. Some countries will automatically recognise an order made by another court, and others will not. This means that additional steps need to be taken to register an order made in England, which will be specific to the country in question.

This is a complex area of law and cases are rarely clear-cut, which makes specialist legal advice all the more important. Please contact me for more information.

This article first appeared on http://www.tltsolicitors.com on 3 June 2015.


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