A relocation can be one of life’s biggest decisions. There can be very good reasons for wanting to relocate. Common reasons often include:
- You may have a new work opportunity.
- You may want to move nearer to your extended family network.
- You may have a new partner and want to move in with them.
Relocation cases are never easy and they take a lot of careful thought, consideration and planning.
Does it matter where I relocate to?
The law is clear in that if you seek to relocate your child outside of our legal jurisdiction of England and Wales then you either require the consent of the other parent who shares Parental Responsibility or permission from the court. If you remove a child outside of the jurisdiction knowing that the other parent does not consent and you don’t have permission from the court then, technically, you would be committing a criminal offence.
The law is different for ‘internal relocations’ (i.e. relocations within our jurisdiction of England and Wales). A resident parent would not be committing a criminal offence if they moved the child to a different area of the country knowing that the other parent does not consent and without permission from the court. Also, Family Law does not say that you necessarily need the other parents’ consent or permission from the court in order to undertake a ‘lawful’ relocation if you move your child to a different area of England and Wales. If the law was otherwise then it would mean that a resident parent would always need the permission of the other parent for each and every house move, even if it were to the next street. That would clearly be too unacceptable a breach of your rights to a private life and it could mean, for example, that an abusive ex could seek to exert further control over you even after separation.
However, matters are different if you seek to relocate your child to an area which would cause a significant change to your child’s life and upbringing. For example, if you moved to an area which would mean your child’s school would need to change or if it would significantly affect the established contact arrangements that the other parent has with the child. In this scenario it would be advisable to obtain the other parents’ consent or permission from the court before relocating. The risk in not doing so – in other words if you just moved knowing the other parent does not consent – is that your ex could go to the Family Court to seek urgent orders against you to return your child to their home town before final decisions are made by the court.
If you are seeking to relocate to a different area of the country which would mean a change of school or would affect the established contact arrangements between your child and the other parent then my advice would be to obtain your ex’s consent or, in the absence of that consent, bring a court application.
How do I address a discuss a potential relocation with my ex?
I often speak with clients who want to relocate for a good reason but feel conflicted and in some cases, even guilty, for seeking to move their child’s life away from the other parent and to a different part of the country. I always advise these clients that their own happiness and wellbeing is important to their child and that they should not be put off achieving their life goals for fear of upsetting the other parent. However, there must always be understanding of how the other parent will feel and react to a potential relocation. It is very often a negative and hostile one which, in my view, is an entirely reasonable and justifiable response. The other parent will be worried about the change a relocation will mean both for them and the child and, importantly, how it will affect their own relationship with the child. It is important that this is understood and respected, however, if you are seeking to relocate for a good reason then my advice is never to feel guilty about it and to remember that you are doing all of this to provide you (and therefore your child) a better life.
Every family and case is different but I generally advise clients to meet up and discuss potential relocations with the other parent directly at the outset. I also advise clients to think about how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot – would you want your ex to reach out to you directly or would you instead rather find out about this potential life changing event by way of a formal solicitors letter?
From experience I find that it is generally better to try and involve the other parent in the decision-making process and open a dialogue. For example, invite the other parent to research local schools and invite them to visit the area and potential schools. Don’t just tell them what you intend to do; ask for their input.
There is no doubt that, in the majority of cases, these initial discussions will be difficult ones and may become strained. However, it is important that they are had. It can benefit some by agreeing to discuss matters further in a more formal environment such as mediation where an independent and professional mediator would sit down with you both to help facilitate productive discussions.
What do I need to think about in regards to the relocation?
The simple answer is ‘a lot’. These cases very often fail because the parent seeking to relocate has not done their homework. You need to put in place a credible and working plan for the relocation.
You ideally need to do some of this work before you approach your ex. They will inevitably have questions about what the relocation would all mean and you need to demonstrate that you have at least thought about it.
Generally you need to think about the following:
- Where you want to relocate to and why (this should be easy).
- When you want to relocate (this may not be easy as will depend on whether and when your ex says yes, and it will also be dependent on school term-time periods – you may therefore not have the exact date but you need to think about an approximate move date and to weigh up how these variable factors may impact that).
- The effect of the relocation on your ex’s relationship with your child and what you can do to ensure that relationship can be maintained – i.e. contact proposals. It is tempting to over-promise and to be generous in order to get your ex’s consent to the relocation, however, it is important for obvious reasons that the contact proposals are both realistic and workable. I would generally advise that you agree to discuss the specific arrangements with your ex and invite their input and suggestions, as opposed to ‘imposing’ an arrangement which may not go down well.
- The financial consequences. Clearly you are not expected to provide your ex with a detailed budget of your financial circumstances, but you do need to provide assurances that, if you relocate, you will have a job or other income and that you will be able to put a roof over yours and your child’s heads.
- What school your child will attend (as outlined above, it is generally advisable to invite your ex’s input into this decision, but you need to have done your own research and put forwards schools to consider).
The above is in no way an exhaustive list and there will be other important issues to consider depending on yours and your child’s particular circumstances.
Finally, I always advise clients to visit the area they wish to relocate to. This may seem obvious but you will be surprised as to how few people do this before they approach their ex to discuss the proposed relocation.
Do I need to get a lawyer?
No, not necessarily, although I would advise you to seek legal advice at an early stage and prior to raising the potential relocation with your ex. If you and your ex can ultimately discuss and agree the internal relocation, either directly or through mediation, then there is no legal requirement to formally document the agreement or to obtain a court order. However, it would be sensible to get your agreement written down so as to avoid your ex potentially reneging on the agreement later down the line. You can do this yourself via a written communication such as email or letter. You could instruct a solicitor to prepare a document called a Contact Agreement or Parenting Plan to record the agreements reached on relocation, schooling and contact. However, as I say, there is no legal requirement to do so and so long as you have written confirmation if your agreement it is not strictly necessary to also pay for a solicitor to prepare a Contact Agreement or Parenting Plan for you.
If matters breakdown and you cannot agree the relocation then, as outlined above, you would need to go to court. If you go to court then you don’t have to get a lawyer – with the cutbacks to legal aid many parents now have no choice but to represent themselves in the court process – but my very firm advice would be to instruct a specialist lawyer to represent you in order to ensure that your very best case is put forwards to the court. A parent will generally only have ‘one chance’ to successfully pursue a relocation and given the enormity of the decision all efforts need to be made to help ensure the application is successful.