Dealing with the relocation of children to another country in situations of family breakdown can be highly complex and challenging – and in most cases, there is no win-win situation for any party involved. The very recent High Court decision in the case of CB v CB [2013] EWHC 2092 shows this. This involved a dispute between an Australian-British dual citizen mother and a British father. Their son, aged 14, had stayed with his father in England after a Christmas visit. This followed a two year period where the mother had relocated to Australia with the child to live on a short-term basis, with the father's permission.

The father had withdrawn that permission and the son had expressed the view he wanted to live in England. The mother brought her case under international child abduction rules (the Hague Convention 1980) designed to ensure the prompt return of the child to its country of residence (Australia in this case). Nevertheless this case shows all the problems of relocation cases where a party seeks to relocate a child in the first place. The court had a particularly difficult decision to make over where the child should ultimately live, Australia or England.

The court refused to return the child to Australia to live with his mother. The son's early life in England was an important factor in this as were his own views and preferences.

Whether the relocation of a child is to another continent, Northern Europe or elsewhere, these cases present highly tricky and sensitive issues. Here are some key tips and advice to keep in mind:

  • It pays, more than ever, to seek advice early  - if possible at the time of separation since early decisions may affect how things turn later on
  • Existing care arrangements often now play a big role - the greater the sharing of care of children, the harder it may be to get permission to relocate (see also our blog on “International child relocation: a new approach” on K v K Court of Appeal case 2011)
  • Relocation plans must be very thoroughly researched - relevant material will always include housing, the support network abroad, schooling, finances, and proposed arrangements for on-going contact with the left-behind parent
  • The views of children may be a feature in cases where the child is aged around nine or more
  • Out-of-court mediation or negotiation is often worth attempting - even if the chances of success are relatively low via this method. Mediation involves a trained neutral third party who aims to help parties reach agreement
  • The stakes are high in these cases and a relatively high number end up at court – so keep timing in mind, especially around academic years. If a negotiated outcome won't be possible, work backwards on the timing - for a case to finish by summer, a court application will need to be started the previous autumn
  • Relocation cases often engender feelings of hostility as either parent risks losing close and regular contact with their child(ren). However, if hostile statements are made in court documents, the court may become sceptical about one parent's ability to facilitate contact, or to maintain a positive image of the other parent in the eyes of the child. It’s therefore important to stay as civil and proactive as possible to reach the best outcome possible
  • Seeking specific advice on bringing or defending claims for financial support by way of housing, maintenance and legal costs orders is also key. The English courts have wide powers in situations involving disputes in multiple countries