Relocation with children after a separation can be a difficult topic for all those involved, and one which can often be contentious. If one parent wishes to move away, either in the UK or abroad, do they need the other parent’s consent? If one parent does not agree to the move, what can they do to challenge it?

In this article, family partner Laura Rogers answers some frequently asked questions on the key legal considerations when looking to move locations with children after a separation.

I’d like to move with my child(ren). I have a child arrangements order with the other parent. Do I need their permission?

If you are seeking to relocate outside of the UK, then you will need either the other parent’s consent or an order of the court. If the relocation is within the UK, then whilst you may not technically need the other parent’s consent, it is best practice to seek it anyway. If the other parent opposes the relocation, then they are likely to seek orders from the court to prevent you from moving or impose conditions on your relocation.

What happens if I go anyway?

If you go without either the other’s parent’s consent, or the court’s permission, and the relocation is outside of the UK, then you may have committed child abduction. Child abduction is both a criminal and civil offence and, depending upon the particular country and the circumstances in which you have relocated, you are likely to be ordered to return.

What should I do in advance of asking the other parent?

Good timing of the application and evidence in support is key to a successful application. Before advising the other parent, and in order to maximise your prospects of success, you need to prepare your case as fully as possible at the outset, including:

  • Why are you going? Is it for work, a new partner, to be closer to friends/family, for a better lifestyle (i.e. out of a city to the countryside)?
  • If the move is to a new area, find out as much as you can about the local area.
  • If it is to somewhere you know, what is your connection there? Who do you know, and what friends/family will you have nearby?
  • What will you do for work? If the move involves a change of employment, what will your new income and work arrangements look like?
  • Consider where you will live, the schools, childcare arrangements and anything else which might be relevant to the child(ren) (e.g. after-school clubs, hobbies). You should view potential houses and visit potential schools.
  • How will the children’s time with the other parent be affected by the move? What time do you propose that they spend together and how would this be funded?
  • You then need to put your proposal to the other parent. Show them how the move is going to work, how you will make it work for the child(ren), and how you will continue to ensure that contact takes place and is not (significantly) affected. The more you can do to answer the potential questions which are likely to be asked by the other parent, the better. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want to know if it were the other way around.

If I have to make an application to court, what will the court consider?

The court’s primary focus is the welfare of the child(ren). A move which is motivated by you wanting to get away from your former partner, or seeking to disrupt the relationship between the child(ren) and the “left behind” parent will not find favour with the court – this will include looking at how the children have historically spent their time and how easily this has been agreed with the other parent. You should focus on the “pull” of the place you want to go to, not the “push” of the place/people you are leaving. You will need to be able to demonstrate why the move is in the child(ren)’s best interests and what you will do to promote contact between the child(ren) and the other parent. This is why the first approach to the other parent is key, because if matters do end up before the court, you could be criticised if your first approach is scarce on detail or ill-considered.

What should I do if I am the left-behind parent and I do not agree?

Do not panic. Relocation applications are not a fait accompli and there can be very good and compelling arguments as to why such a significant move is not in the best interests of the child(ren) including the impact on their education, and their relationship with you and other family members. However, you do need to approach such applications carefully and be well prepared. You will have the opportunity to have your say. If court proceedings are necessary, you will be given the chance to file a statement setting out the reasons for your opposition. It is important to seek legal advice early on to make sure you can prepare your case in the best possible way and consider all options.