Relocating a child following a divorce is a highly sensitive and complex issue. This two-part blog series covers child relocation laws, starting with relocating a child in the UK, which includes England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland, but not the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.
Child relocation generates strong feelings
Relocating a child in the UK generates strong feelings, especially for the parent who is ‘left behind’ so to speak. In what already is a difficult time for a family during and after a divorce, the idea that one parent wants to move away and take the child(ren) with them will set emotions running high.
For the parent with whom the child will not be living, it can feel like another loss. They will no doubt have concerns about how much time they will be able to spend with their child(ren) and how this affects any future relationship. It could even create additional financial pressures as a result of having to travel long distances.
In some cases, it could be viewed as a deliberate attempt to stop one parent form seeing their child(ren). For the parent wanting to move away with their child(ren) they might see it as unfair that they are unable to move on with their life or career, while arguing that their basic human right to free movement within the UK is being compromised.
What are the child relocation laws?
If both parents agree to an internal relocation, then there is no issue. However, restrictions on the amount of time the parent ‘staying behind’ has with their child(ren), the area of the UK a child is moving to and the cost of travel are often major sticking points when trying to reach an agreement.
Whatever the outcome, it’s the job of both parents to do what’s best for the child, whether that’s preparing them for any major move well in advance or discussing plans to remain in close proximity.
If parents are unable to reach an agreement, then the parent looking to relocate a child in the UK will ned to apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
A parent wanting to stop the internal relocation of a child will need to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order under the same Act. However, prior to any parent making an application for either order, it’s recommended that they attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to try and settle matters out of court.
If the outcome of a MIAM is that there is still no agreement, then a court decision on internal relocation will be based upon a test of a child’s welfare – known as the ‘welfare principle’, which is the foundation on which the court deals with Child Arrangement Orders.
Under previous laws, it was down to the ‘left-behind parent’ to demonstrate exceptional reasons to prevent a Specific Issue Order being granted.