After separation, either parent may wish to move to another part of the country. If that parent’s plan involves a child moving home with them, this can make a big difference to the relationship between that child and their other parent.
Where the parents cannot reach agreement, the court will have to make a decision that is in the child’s best interests. Disputes of this type are often known as ‘internal relocation’ cases.
All relocation cases, whether in the UK or involving an overseas country, have huge implications for the whole family, regardless of the court deciding in favour of a move or preserving the status quo. The outcome is generally all or nothing: the move either happens or it doesn’t and there is very little middle ground.
How JMW Can Help
We have extensive experience of internal relocation disputes, regularly acting for relocating and non-relocating parents. These cases generally involve a high level of preparation in order to provide the court with a clear idea of what ‘staying’ or ‘going’ will mean for the child and their family relationships, encompassing areas such as:
- Current contact and shared parenting arrangements and how these will be affected by a move
- Proposed contact arrangements after a move
- Education and arrangements for extra-curricular activities
- Housing and amenities
- An analysis of wider family relationships and how they may be impacted by a move
- The impact upon either parent and the child of a decision either way
Urgent Situations Related to Internal Relocation
We have experience of representing parents whose former partner has simply announced that they are going to move a significant distance away with their child, regardless of the fact that the arrangements are not agreed.
Where there is a real risk that a parent will go ahead regardless of the other parent’s wishes, we can help you make an emergency application to the court to hold the status quo in place for the time being, pending a decision being made following a proper court process.
A Planned Move to Relocate in the UK
Where one parent’s request to relocate with a child within the UK is opposed by the other parent, an application that will lead to the court making a decision can be made by either parent, depending on exact circumstances and whether any urgent features arise.
Regardless of how the dispute is brought before the court, the relevant principles are the same.
How the Courts Decide
The case law on internal relocation has undergone a lot of analysis by the Court of Appeal in the relatively recent past. That said, there are no special rules or presumptions in place.
The court will look at the fundamental question of which parent’s proposal (stay or go) is in the child’s best interests. The court will undertake a balancing exercise, using the welfare checklist (from section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989) for assistance. This is a list of prompts designed to ensure that a child’s welfare is looked at holistically.
They will look at the potential effect of approving or declining the request to relocate upon each of the parents so far as that will impact on the child’s wellbeing.
The Role of CAFCASS
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will usually be involved in a relocation case. CAFCASS is an independent, government-funded organisation that exists to promote the welfare of children within family court proceedings.
Their work includes producing reports and recommendations to help the court reach decisions. A CAFCASS officer will make enquiries of the parents, meet the child, and potentially speak to schools, childcare providers and relevant others to get a balanced picture of the child’s circumstances. They will then make a recommendation to the court that is persuasive but from which the court can depart where justified.
If the relocation is approved, the court will work hard to put in place a realistic contact schedule with the other parent to promote their relationship with the child, taking into account the practicalities of geography and scheduling.