Can I take the children to live in another part of the country?
The Covid-19 pandemic has led many to reconsider their location – according to a survey carried out by the London Assembly Housing Committee, one in seven Londoners wants to leave the city. Separated parents face the potential complexity that one parent may want to relocate while the other does not.
There is no specific law restricting a parent from moving with their children within the UK (often described by family lawyers as “internal relocation”). However, because both parents’ consent should generally be obtained prior to changing a child’s school, in practice, either agreement between the parents or a court order will often be needed. It is any event generally good parenting practice not to make significant decisions for a child without consulting the other parent.
If agreement can’t be reached, either parent can apply to court for an order to resolve the dispute. In reaching a decision the judge’s paramount consideration will be the child’s welfare, and the parent seeking to relocate will need to explain the motivation behind the relocation and provide detailed information about what life in the proposed new location will look like and why it will benefit the child.
Every case will be fact specific, but relevant factors are likely to include the child’s wishes (considered in light of their age and understanding), how well their emotional, educational and physical needs would be met in the new location, the proposed housing and schooling arrangements, the impact on the child of a change in their circumstances, and the proposed arrangements for contact with the other parent.
In the recent case of F v G  EWFC B12, a mother had temporarily moved to the countryside with the parties’ two children, aged three and nine, during the first lockdown, but subsequently wished to make the move permanent. The parties agreed that the younger child should be based in the countryside with the mother, but differed as to the best arrangements for the older child. On balance the judge concluded that, given the older child’s autism and resultant difficulty in managing change, the negative impact on him of having to move schools meant that it was in his best interests to be based in London with his father. The children would spend every weekend and the holidays together, alternating between their parents.
Whilst it is unusual to separate siblings, the case emphasises how fact-specific these decisions are. The judge expressed concern in this case that the mother’s plans were not particularly child-focused; rather that she was seeking to mould the children’s lives around her own plans, and this was damaging to her case. The judge emphasised that the paramount consideration is the child’s welfare; the parents’ interests and welfare are important to the judge’s decision only insofar as they impact on the welfare of the child.
Court proceedings to determine arrangements for children should always be a last resort. Other options include negotiating through solicitors, including at round table meetings; mediation, where a neutral third party facilitates discussion and suggests solutions; and arbitration, a privatised (and therefore speedier and more flexible) version of the court system where an experienced lawyer is appointed to make a binding decision.
Finally, if you are worried your former partner is about to relocate with the children without your agreement, then you can apply to the court on an urgent basis for an order forbidding them from doing so. If a parent does move within the UK without the agreement of the children’s other parent or a court order, an application can be made to court seeking their return, which will be determined according to the child’s best interests. Unlike the situation where a child is abducted abroad, this will not usually constitute a criminal offence, but it may be highly disruptive for the child, and is likely to be disapproved of by the court and may influence the court’s perspective going forward.
If you have any questions about relocating with children or other aspects of family law, please contact Eri Horrocks on 020 7412 0050 or Eri.Horrocks@hunterslaw.com.