If one parent wishes to relocate with their child, either abroad or to another part of the country, they must obtain the consent of the other parent or permission of the court (assuming they both have parental responsibility for the child). If the other parent does not consent to the proposed relocation, the parent wishing to relocate must make an application to the court to decide the issue and this is often an extremely finely balanced exercise. The outcome is also binary; either the parent will be permitted to relocate or they will not and the outcome will have a significant effect on both parents as well as the child.

Applications for relocation

When considering an application for permission to relocate with a child, the court must have regard to the welfare checklist. This will include consideration of the motivations of both parents, the impact on either parent of the application being granted or refused and whether the application to relocate has been well researched and investigated.

The amount of time that the child is currently spending with each parent is relevant to this exercise. The court will want to know how the parent wishing to relocate will promote the child’s relationship with the other parent, and what the spending time arrangements would look like following a relocation.

Shared care for equality in parenting

There has been an increase in shared care arrangements over recent years, as the law moves towards greater equality in parenting. There is no legal definition of ‘shared care’, however for the purpose of this blog it is being used to describe an arrangement which involves the child spending a roughly equal amount of time with each parent.

Relocation will, in most cases, mean that the child is no longer able to spend the same amount of time with the left behind parent. Therefore, the effect of relocation where the child has been spending a similar amount of time with each parent is even more marked and will have a significant impact on both the nature and quantity of time that the child will spend with the other parent. For this reason, it is likely that relocation applications will be more difficult in circumstances where a shared care arrangement is in place. Further, parents may be deterred from making such applications – which are often costly and time consuming – if the prospects of success are lower.

How the court decides

However, it is important to note that different criteria do not apply in shared care cases. In Re L (a child) (internal relocation: shared residence order) [2009] EWCA Civ 20 the Court of Appeal emphasised that the fact of a shared residence order will be an important factor, but it is not a trump card preventing relocation. In each case what the court has to do is to examine the underlying factual matrix, and to decide in all the circumstances of the case whether or not it is in the child’s interest to relocate with the parent who wishes to move.