Can I Move Away With My Children Or Do I Need my Ex-partner’s Consent?
London based family and children law solicitors
If you have questions about children law applications call the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up an appointment for you.
Moving home after divorce
It can be difficult to think that even after a separation or divorce and the purchase of separate homes there are still ties that bind you to an ex-partner. When you have children those ties last years, often beyond their childhood and into adulthood, with conversations still needed that keep a form of contact with your ex-partner.
When you have younger children, it isn’t unusual for one partner to want to move out of the area. Nowadays that desire to leave London may be down to COVID-19 lockdowns and lack of sizeable garden but it can equally be down to wanting to make a fresh start, leaving an abusive relationship and wanting space, a new job opportunity or new relationship, or wanting to relocate near to parents or a sister for childcare help and support as a single parent. Whatever the planned reason for your UK relocation it is best to speak to a children law solicitor before committing to your move.
Child custody and contact orders
When you are looking to relocate with your child in the UK the first question a children law solicitor is likely to ask you is whether there are any existing court orders. Most parents still think and talk about child custody and contact but the order is likely to be a child arrangement order.
A child arrangement order sets out the living arrangements for a child after parental separation or divorce. The order could say care is shared or say the child lives with one parent and the other parent has specified contact with the child, such as alternate weekend contact and holiday contact. Don’t be surprised if you don’t have a child arrangement order because the court is only asked to make an order if parents can't reach an agreement on parenting arrangements either directly or through solicitor negotiations or family mediation.
Moving in the UK with children if there is a child arrangement order
If there is an existing child arrangement order in place, can you move within the UK without breaching the child arrangement order? For example, if the child arrangement order says child custody is shared then unless the order is varied the practicalities of shared care mean you need to live in relatively close proximity to your ex-partner.
If the child arrangement order says the child lives with you but there is alternate weekend contact then a move out of London may be feasible without applying to vary the court order. However, even if the move out of London is restricted to the likes of Kent, Hampshire or Surrey, the practicalities of contact will be harder, and impossible if the child arrangement order includes midweek contact or the alternate weekend contact provides for the parent to drop the child off at school on the Monday. Commuting and traffic just would not make that practicable.
The answer is that if the existing child arrangement order can't be complied with because of the distance you are planning to move, you either need your ex-partner’s written agreement to the move and the changed contact arrangements or to apply to vary the child arrangement order so the contact is feasible between the two parental homes.
Your ex-partner could object to your planned move and do one of a number of things:
- Ask the court to uphold the existing contact arrangements in the child arrangement order or
- Ask the court to vary the existing child arrangement order so the child lives with them and has contact with you
- Ask the court to make a prohibited steps order to prohibit the child moving out of a specified geographic area. That would not stop you moving altogether but the geographical distance might stop a planned move to the country or a return to live near extended family.
It is best to take legal advice if there is an existing child arrangement order so you understand your legal options before you talk to your ex-partner about your planned move. That way you are more likely to be able to reach an agreement over the UK relocation.
Moving in the UK when there is no child arrangement order
If there is no child arrangement order in place you may think that you have every right to move within the UK wherever you want to relocate to. However, if your ex-partner objects to the children moving, they can apply to the court for a prohibited steps order preventing you from moving. You could apply to the court for a specific issue order so you can move.
It is therefore best to speak to an ex-partner before you finalise any UK relocation plans as, whether you have a child arrangement order in place or not, they could object and start court proceedings. That could either delay your move, or in an exceptional situation, even prevent your planned move.
How does a court decide if a parent can relocate in the UK with their child?
When the court is deciding an application concerning the welfare of a child the court will make its decision based on what orders it believes are in the child’s best interests. When assessing a child’s interests the court will look at a range of factors, referred to as the welfare checklist.
The welfare checklist includes:
- The child’s age and background as well as their physical, educational and emotional needs
- The child’s wishes and feelings, considered in light of their age and understanding
- The effect the relocation or change in contact arrangements will have on the child
- The reasons for the move and the impact of refusing the application on the parent seeking to relocate with the child
- The proposals for contact if the move goes ahead assuming that the current contact arrangements will need to be altered because of geographical distances between homes.
It is best if you are involved with a UK relocation court application that you carefully think about why you want to move or why you oppose the move as well as the practicalities such as a home, schools in the new area as well as contact arrangements.
LONDON BASED CHILDREN AND FAMILY LAW SOLICITORS
If you need help with making or responding to a children law application then the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors are here to advise and represent you. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a video conference or telephone appointment for you with one of our friendly and approachable children law solicitors.