If you are separated or divorced, then issues relating to your children may be some of the most difficult and contentious. This can be particularly true if one of you wishes to move away to another part of the UK with your child. There may be lots of very good reasons why you wish to relocate with your child, but this can make it hard for the other parent. But do you need permission to move within the UK? Can you stop your ex and child moving? And do you have to go to court to stop your ex and child relocating? Our guide answers these questions and more.
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Is permission needed to move a child in the UK?
If you have parental responsibility, there is no requirement under the law to obtain the consent of the non-resident parent if you want to move a child within the UK.
While there may be no permission required, gaining the approval of your ex-partner to your move can make the process smoother and less stressful for all concerned. This is particularly true if the move is likely to affect their contact with the children.
Moving away without speaking to your former partner can make a situation worse, and they may even apply to the courts to prevent your move. This could delay your relocation significantly and, in exceptional cases, they may be able to prevent a move if it is not in the best interests of your child.
If I want to move away, do I have to go to court?
No. If you gain consent from the other parent to your move then it is not necessary to go to court. You could consider making the permission legally binding, just in case your ex withdraws their consent at a later date. Which can be done by lodging an agreed Consent Order with the Court.
If you don’t obtain consent, or your ex-partner objects to your move, you can consider collaborative options such as mediation. By working with a mediator you may be able to come up with an acceptable solution without the need to go to court.
If you still can’t agree then you can still proceed with your relocation without going to court. However, your ex can then apply to the court to stop your move, and you may have to go to court and prove that the relocation is in your child’s best interests (see the section below).
What are my rights?
Your rights depend on whether you have parental responsibility for your child. An adult with parental responsibility can have a greater influence on where their child lives. Mothers have automatic parental responsibility as do married fathers and, since December 2003 in England, fathers whose name is on the child’s birth certificate. Fathers can also gain parental responsibility by means of a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
If you didn’t enshrine your child’s living arrangements in a Child Arrangement Order when you separated, only parents with parental responsibility can decide where the child lives.
So, if you are a father who was never married, or you’re not on the birth certificate, you may not be able to stop the mother and child moving away.
If you did obtain a Child Arrangements Order and it specifies where you and the child live and contact arrangements for the other parent, you may need the court’s permission to relocate.
Can I stop my ex moving a child within the UK?
While there is no legal requirement for a parent and child to seek permission to relocate within the UK, you do have the right to prevent the other from moving – at least until the court has considered your case.
To stop your ex and child moving you would have to begin court proceedings against the relocating parent by applying for:
- a Child Arrangements Order – to determine where your child should live
- a Prohibited Steps Order – to stop the relocation taking place
- conditions to be attached to an existing Child Arrangements Order.
If the parent who is moving away with the child already has a Child Arrangements Order which says that the child should reside with them, it’s unlikely that the court will prevent them moving to another part of the UK except in exceptional circumstances.
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What factors do the courts consider when a parent wants to move a child within the UK?
There are lots of reasons you may wish to move after a divorce. You may want to leave bad memories behind, move closer to family for support, take advantage of a job opportunity, or relocate with a new partner.
The underlying principle of the courts is that any move should be in the best interests of the child. The wishes of both parents will be taken into consideration, but only to evaluate and determine what is best for the welfare of the child.
Factors that the court will take into account include:
- your child’s educational and emotional needs
- the age, sex and background of your child
- your child’s wishes and feelings
- how socially connected they are to the current area
- the effect the change will have on your child
- the effect that refusing permission to move will have on the parent with whom your child lives
- the motives of the parent wishing to move.
The courts will also want to establish that your reasons for relocating are reasonable and practical. For example, have you researched the schools in the new area? Is it easy for the other parent to travel to your new location? Will a contact schedule permit them quality contact with your child? And can indirect contact take place (such as video or phone calls)?
The courts will also consider whether the other parent’s objections are self-regarding or grounded in a genuine concern for your child’s welfare.
Every situation is different, and the courts will look at the individual pros and cons of your case. In general terms, courts are keen to ensure that both parents remain a part of a child’s life.
Can the court refuse to give permission for my ex to relocate with my child?
Yes. If the court deems that the move is not in your child’s best interests, then they can refuse to consent to the move.
Reasons why the court may refuse permission include:
- There has been no planning in terms of where the relocating parent will work, where the child will go to school, or even where they might live
- The child expresses a desire not to move (limited to older children)
- Where the move would lead to a significant deterioration in the relationship with the other parent
- Where the relocating parent’s motives are selfish and not considered to be in the child’s interests.
Reconciling the competing demands of separated and divorced parents is notoriously difficult. When one parent wants to move and take the children with them, there are only two outcomes – they can either go or stay. Either way it is easy to get into a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ mindset which doesn’t help anyone. You should always bear in mind, the most important consideration is for the children involved and what is best for them.
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