Moving to a new location is a big step at the best of times. During the pandemic, moving abroad or even to a new town, has its challenges. Planning a family relocation carefully is essential, including deciding whether a move should happen at all. There has been a big increase in activity in the property market and other areas as things return to something like normal and we know families have different needs emerging from lockdown. We focus here on the potential impact on children of separated or divorced parents and the consequences if one parent decides to relocate.
We’re here to help families get through challenging times, in this article we discuss some of the key areas which feature in recent court decisions and provide some useful information on the factors for separated parents to take into account.
When parents separate, not all parents have parental rights and responsibilities. Under the law, the mother automatically has them. A father has them if he was married to the mother at the time of conception, or subsequently. If the parents were not married, a father has parental rights and responsibilities if his name is on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born on or after 4 May 2006. A father of a child born before that date does not have automatic parental rights and responsibilities, even if his name was on the child’s birth certificate.
If one parent is planning to move abroad with the child or children, the permission of the separated parent who has parental rights and responsibilities must be sought before a move could take place. In the absence of that permission, a court order – known as a Specific Issue Order – would be needed.
Although a move within the UK does not require permission under the law of the separated parent, it can become a matter of dispute between the two parents – particularly if the move is geographically far away. Unless agreement to the move can be negotiated, this can end up in court with a Specific Issue Order being sought, or interdicts to prevent the removal of the children. Parents who have children living with them may feel that relocating is a decision they should make alone. Resident parents may assume that their wishes and the impact on them of not making the move will take priority. While in England, the latter point can be a material factor in balancing matters out, this is not the case in Scotland.
In Scotland, the court refused an order for relocation where a significant factor was the detrimental effect on the child’s relationship and contact with the non-resident parent.
In the case of MCB v NMF, the court said that the parent seeking to move must show that relocation would be in the best interests of the child, in fact, from the child’s perspective, and that it would be better for the relocation to be allowed than not. In that case, the resident parent (the mother) wished to move to Cyprus for a better lifestyle. She said she had better job prospects there and would live with her mother. However, she was unable to show that there was a job waiting for her or that the education system would be better for the child than was currently in place in Scotland. The significant factor for the court here was the importance of family relationships and the maintenance of contact with the non-resident parent. The court decided that if the order was granted, the child’s contact with their father would be reduced to summer holidays and Skype/FaceTime and this was compared to current extensive contact exercised on alternate weekends on a residential basis. The court refused to make the order for relocation.
The court considered this aspect in the case of GL v JL 2017 where, after the parents had separated, the resident parent (in this case, the mother) decided that she wanted to relocate to England because her parents and extended family lived there. While the court understood the desire and motivation to move, the important considerations were the advantages and disadvantages to the child. While the court found that there would be no real difference in terms of accommodation and education, there was nothing negative in the child’s current life which would benefit from the move. The court found that the proposed move would have a negative impact on the child’s relationship with the non-resident father. This was a significant factor in the court’s decision for the child to remain in Scotland.
There’s clearly a lot to think about in this difficult area and so we’ve summarised some of the key points from recent court decisions which parents may find helpful to take into account in thinking about relocation:
While these points from previous court decisions may be useful, each case is individual with its own particular circumstances.
The court will examine the reasons for the proposed move and look for evidence on:
It is possible the court may not grant an order where there no compelling reason to move has been demonstrated and the child is currently enjoying a good standard of life where they have contact with the non-resident parent which would be adversely affected by the move.
Our experienced Family Law Team can help advise you on all separation and family relocation issues. You may also be interested in our other recent articles:
A version of this article was published in The Scotsman.