Expatriate Family Law

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Solicitors for Expatriate Families

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you feel comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."

Clifton Fadiman

Relocation or Returning Home

The international movement of children, where parents have separated or are considering moving (together or separately) to another country, requires expert legal advice.

The starting point is that a child cannot be permanently moved from the place where it has its centre of activities (Habitual Residence), without both parents agreeing to the move, or the permission of the courts of that country.

The movement of children internationally without the consent of the other parent is, on the face of it, abduction. Abducted children can be returned to their country of origin rapidly, where that country is also a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Where the children come from a country which has not signed this treaty, there is a fast track, welfare based court process which considers all of the circumstances connected to the move.

In certain situations, where divorce proceedings have started in England and Wales, but a family lives abroad and where their children are nationals of England and Wales, the courts in England and Wales can make decisions regarding all aspects of children's lives until they are 18.

The simplest way to establish that England and Wales has the jurisdiction to make decisions is by agreement. However, there is also a clear (but seldom used) legislative route to establish jurisdiction in the absence of agreement.

Any parent wanting to take this alternative approach would need firstly to consider if a decision made in this way would be enforceable in the country in which the children actually live.

Divorce, Separation or Remarriage can lead to a wish by one parent to return to their country of origin, the country of a new partner, or the place of a new work opportunity.

Where there is an agreement between the parents for such a move, we have significant experience in advising on the structuring and protection of the arrangements, which will support the move.

Where no agreement is possible, we have 30 years of experience representing parents make or defend applications to the court for permission to relocate abroad with their children.

We work with lawyers and the therapeutic community across the world, to ensure that the children who are moving retain a strong physical and emotional link to both parents, regardless of distance.

Planning is everything, and the lawful movement of children abroad is one of those occasions when specialist legal advice in both the country where you live and intend to move to really should be taken, before any actions are taken or words spoken on the subject.

Our international family law connections mean that we can immediately access reliable advice across the world.

Moving to England and Wales

We advise parents who wish to return or move to England and Wales.

Parents moving to this country from abroad, for work or other economic reasons and those who advise them, should be aware that within a very short period of time, potentially days, children can become Habitually Resident in England and Wales.

Once a child has established Habitual Residence, the rules described above (Relocating or Returning Home) apply.


As explained above, removing a child from the country where it has its centre of activities (Habitual Residence) is, on the face of it an abduction.

Many countries are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. England and Wales takes a strict approach to the obligations of this treaty, other countries are more relaxed.

The movement of children between countries without consent or permission, where the country they are going to or coming from is not a party to the Hague Convention, poses unique challenges for parents, lawyers and judges.

Early specialist and internationally connected advice is essential where there has been or there is the risk of an abduction. We have wide experience advising parents on how to avoid and respond to an abduction of their children.


Advising and representing parents in England and Wales from allegations of abduction from:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Spain
  • USA
  • UAE

Child Arrangements

Most separating families do not need help when agreeing what is in the future best interests of their children, post separation. Many expatriate families do, however, need advice understanding and tackling the comparative differences of law and expectation between the country in which they live, and England and Wales.

For those who cannot agree, we work creatively to find solutions and compromise, working extensively with lawyers across the world.

Please see the following link for further information:

International Children, Relocation and Abduction


We have decades of experience in advising parents and their advisors about the protective measures that can be taken, or agreements reached, to avoid complex family litigation if a move abroad turns out to be unsuccessful for one parent.

  • One of the UK’s leading experts on divorces concerning families connected to the GCC with extensive experience of jurisdictional disputes in the region, and wider MENA.
  • Assisting numerous UAE citizens and expatriates in “choice of law” decisions and disputes.
  • Complex Omani family proceedings in London.
  • Advising Kuwaiti family in multi-jurisdictional proceedings involving inter-generational wealth.
  • Advising Citizens of KSA in both matrimonial proceedings and prenuptial and post nuptial agreements.
  • Advising and representing clients in respect of contesting the jurisdictional basis of Part III Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 claims.
  • Re B (Children)[ 2015] EWCA Civ 1302. English Court of Appeal decision regarding the relocation of children to Abu Dhabi.

We (do however) also have wide experience working with difficult situations, particularly where parents have issues with addiction and or personality disorders. We have strong links to addiction therapy professionals  and have decades of experience supporting the victims of emotional and physical abuse, often working in tandem with lawyers across the world.

Michael Rowlands is a fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers and has been representing international families for over 30 years with a particular connection with The UAE, MENA Region, North America, Japan, Switzerland and Monaco.

Further Information 

Dubai and the Gulf
International Divorce
International Divorce Financial Settlements
International Post and Prenuptial Agreements Solicitors

Talk to us

If you require further information or advice from our team of expert family lawyers, please contact a member of our team or call us on 0345 872 6666. Alternatively you can complete our online enquiry form and we will be in touch as soon as possible.