Moving abroad following a relationship breakdown
People decide to move abroad, following a relationship breakdown, for a variety of reasons. Some people may be returning to their country of origin where they may still have family and a network of old friends. Others may move in order to go somewhere new with the intention of building up a network of friends. These motives are entirely understandable and, in many cases, will enable the person concerned to make a break from the past and start again. What happens though if there are children involved?
If there are children involved then the decision to move abroad becomes more complex and may well require an application to the family court in order to obtain permission to relocate from a judge. If the application is bitterly opposed by the other parent then this could result in prolonged and lengthy court proceedings at the conclusion of which the court will make a decision as to whether permission should be given. One well known family law judge has commented that the decision as to whether to allow a relocation is one of the hardest decisions that a judge will ever have to make as the court will not be able to resolve the issue by finding a comfortable middle ground and it is inevitable that one parent will win and the other parent will lose with all the consequential disappointment and anguish that may follow.
Over the years a number of decisions by the family court have established some principles and guidance as to how applications to relocate should be treated by the court. The underlying principle is that in deciding such an application the welfare of the child is the most important issue and this will, inevitably, trump all other considerations no matter how powerful or reasonable they may be.
Where the children are older and, for instance, midway through their secondary education then the parent who wishes to relocate, with the children, may well have an uphill struggle to convince the court that it is in the best interests of the children to have their secondary education disrupted, their friendship group broken, and it is better for them to be taken to a new country with a different education system and no friendship group. There may, of course, also be the additional complication of the children having to learn a new language. It is fairly easy, in these circumstances, to see how a court may decide that a relocation is contrary to the best interests of the children and permission should be refused.
The answer in some cases, such as in the scenario above, may be fairly straightforward. What if, though, the children are much younger, at preschool age, have been brought up to speak the first language of the relocating parent, who wishes to return to their country of origin where they do have family and friends. In this scenario, the decision becomes somewhat harder for the court. The attractiveness of permitting a relocation may be greater if the relocating parent can show that their prospects of being able to establish a stable and positive lifestyle in the UK, following the breakdown of their relationship, are poor.
Ultimately, the decision will rest upon a factual evaluation and a value judgement by the judge who has the difficult task of deciding the application.
There are a number of practical issues that the relocating parent must address in their application and these may, for instance, include whether they will be able to obtain housing in the new location, have existing family or friends in the new location, their employment prospects and financial security in the new location, the ease with which the children will transition into a new education system and any language issues.
The court will expect the analysis to include consideration of the rights and feelings of the parent left behind and the relocating parent should not only demonstrate that they will facilitate contact taking place with the parent left behind but also how this may be achieved in practical terms, which may require evidence as to the transport links between the new country and the old country. A relocation to, say, Paris may impact on the child’s relationship with the left behind parent a great deal less than a relocation to, say, a city in Australia.