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Diary of a Divorce Lawyer: November 202018th November 2020 Family Law
As a separated co-parent to three children and a divorcee, I understand the real difficulties of navigating life after divorce. For many separated co-parents, relocating to a new area after divorce might be something that is agreed but for others this can become a major source of conflict and heartache.
I was recently instructed by a local mother, Sue. Her two boys, aged 12 and 10, attend a school in Twickenham. Sue works in the technology industry and since the coronavirus lockdown in March has been told that it is unlikely that she will be expected to work full time in her company’s London office again.
Sue divorced her ex-husband and father of the boys, Gary*, four years ago. They have been successfully co-parenting ever since. Gary has met a new partner and lives with her and her two children close to Sue and the boys.
Sue was living in a small two-bedroomed property with no garden and wanted to move. Until eight years ago, Sue, Gary and the boys had lived in a village in Yorkshire, where their extended families still live and for many reasons, the last of which had been the effective closing down of her office, Sue wanted to return. She had found a four-bedroomed house with a big garden, and established that there were places for both boys at the local school. She was convinced that it was the right move for her and the boys. Unfortunately Gary refused to give his consent to the move, which had a negative impact upon the boys who had been excited by the return to Yorkshire, but now found it tough to reconcile their parents’ differing views.
An ‘internal relocation’ dispute is where one parent seeks to move their child or children to another location and/or school within the UK and the other parent does not agree. If a parent moves without consent then they and the children can be forced to return by the family court. Very often, parents faced with this issue manage to reach an understanding to avoid a damaging and costly court process. However, where agreement is not possible, the family courts will assist and make the decision for them.
Sue and I discussed the court process and, like many parents, she had initially been surprised to hear that Gary could object to the move. I explained that we would need to make an application to the family court for permission for her to relocate with the boys, putting together a detailed statement in support of her application to show that she had really considered the move and how it would impact on the boys in terms of their relationship with their father, education and general welfare.
Sue was saddened by the fact that she had to litigate but there seemed to be no alternative as the decision was binary; they either stayed or they went.
We made the application to the Kingston Family Court and I encouraged Sue to have one last attempt at reaching an agreement with Gary by trying mediation through Leslie Saunders at MID Mediation and counselling, based in Hampton Hill.
I was delighted to hear from Gary`s solicitor a couple of weeks later that an agreement to the move had been reached. Gary’s solicitor and I then agreed a schedule of contact arrangements, which included Gary having significantly more of the holidays and long weekends with the boys than Sue. Once they were happy with the agreement, we sent it as a ‘consent order’ to the court for approval.
Sue and the boys moved in September. She called me to say that the move had gone well and that the boys were looking forward to their new life and seeing their father for the school half term break. Despite the often negative view of family lawyers I am always delighted to hear of a successful agreement reached between couples, whether in respect to their children or money, without resorting to court.
The relocation of children abroad or within their home country is a specialist branch of family law, as the family courts will look upon a potential move from Richmond to Rotherham in very much the same way as they would to one between Teddington and Toronto. In such a case it is always prudent to seek expert, experienced advice.