You recently settled your divorce and have slowly started to re-build your life. In fact, you have been excelling at work and have been offered a promotion – only hitch is the new position requires you to relocate to another branch on the other side of the country. Instead of celebrating, the first concern that comes to your mind is – how will this relocation impact the current childcare arrangements between you and your ex-spouse? Obviously, this scenario raises many issues such as what happens if one parent wishes to relocate with their child to another part of the UK or even overseas? Is it allowed? What impact, if at all, does it have on the parent who gets left behind and loses the chance to interact with their child? Are they expected to move too and what are their rights?
So, how does the law regulate family relocation cases among divorced spouses? Is there a correct approach to handling these matters? Unfortunately, the law regarding child relocation is generally unclear due to inconsistent decisions of previous cases. However, the recent development of case law in this area has established a set of criteria that can be used by UK courts to aid them in their decision making.
For example, in Re C (Internal Relocation), a father tried to stop a mother from moving their daughter from London to Cumbria, which is in North West England (approximately a 6 hour drive from the capital). He alleged that it would disrupt their current shared-care arrangement and give his ex-spouse greater control over the child’s lifestyle. The mother argued that by moving she could afford to be financially independent, enhance her career prospects and return to her country roots. In this case, the court ruled in favor of the mother because the relocation was deemed to be in the best interests of the child. The father appealed and several issues were raised on appeal. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed all of the father’s appeals. It was an important decision because it highlighted key principles that the Court adhered to when making their decision.
First, the court outlined that it is the child’s well-being that should be kept in mind when considering the facts of a case. Further, it is also necessary to consider the arguments put forth by the parents as well as the wishes of the child (if the child is of age to communicate their wishes). Second, past cases had taken different approaches when dealing with external (i.e. outside of the UK) and internal relocation cases (i.e. within the UK). This case succinctly noted that while distance is an important consideration, it should not change the standard approach taken between the two types of cases. Third, it was noted that it would be beneficial for courts to refer to the Payne case as a checklist of the factors that ought to be taken into account when assessing a child’s best interests.
The significance of this case is that it was a Court of Appeal level decision which set out the basics in terms of how a court should assess relocation cases. Most recently, there was another relocation case of a mother wishing to relocate internationally to Poland due her mental health issues, which she argued could be better managed in her home country. The mother was granted permission to relocate permanently with her child to Poland. In the case, there was a lengthy discussion of the facts which illustrated that the mother and father could come to workable arrangement so that the father would still have contact with the child.
Thus, while these established principles can be used as a practical guide, it wouldn’t be ill-advised to presume that all relocation cases will be decided in the same manner. Each family has its own unique circumstance and a court will consider all of the facts of the situation in order to come to a solution that is in the best interests of the child.
If you have any questions about child custody or relocation concerns, please contact a specialist at Grayfords.
Re AZ (Children) (Relocation to Poland)  EWFC 8
Re C (Internal Relocation)  EWCA 1305
Payne v Payne  EWCA Civ 166