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Child law

Can I take my child to a different part of the country after I separate?

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Walker Family Law
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Can I take my child to a different part of the country after I separate?

It is not uncommon that, after they separate, parents might want to move to different parts of the country, some considerable distance away from each other.

This might, for example, be because the parents originate from different parts of the country, and simply wish to return to where they came from, and where their family still reside. Or it might be because the parent has got a job in a different part of the country, requiring them to move.

But what if the child is living with the parent who wishes to move? That could obviously cause considerable difficulties for the child’s contact with the other parent. Can a parent freely take their child to another part of the country? And if they do, is there anything that the other parent can do about it?


Freedom to move

There is no provision in the law preventing a parent from moving a child anywhere within England and Wales. In theory, therefore, a parent with whom the child is living can move at any time, without seeking the permission of the other parent, or the court.

The rationale behind this is simply the right to freedom of movement – everyone is free to live wherever they wish within the same country, without seeking any sort of permission to move.

But that is not the end of the matter.


Preventing the move/getting the child back

It is possible to ask a court to prevent a child being moved to a different part of the country, or even to ask the court to require that the child be moved back to the part of the country where the parents lived before they separated.

Exactly how this might happen depends upon the circumstances, but two examples are that a parent who fears that the other might move could apply for a prohibited steps order to prevent the move, or there could be a child arrangements order with a condition attached stating where the child should live.

When considering any such application the court will, as always, be guided by what it considers is best for the welfare of the child. The wishes, feelings and interests of the parents, including the reasons for the move, and the likely impact of the decision on each of them are of great importance, but only in the context of evaluating and determining the welfare of the child.


Two contrasting caseschild with parents

It is useful to look at two contrasting cases, to see how this might work in practice.

In the first case, decided in 2015, the mother wanted to relocate with a ten year old child from London to Cumbria, not far from where her family lived. She therefore applied to the court for a specific issue order permitting her to take the child to Cumbria.

The court found that the child’s welfare would be best served by living in Cumbria, and therefore allowed the move. The father appealed against this decision, but the Court of Appeal upheld the order, and dismissed the appeal.

The second case, decided last year, was quite different. The parents and their son, who was born in 2015, lived in London. They separated in January 2016, when the mother moved out, taking the child with her.

The mother made a number of allegations of domestic abuse against the father, and in February 2016 she was placed in a refuge in the North East of England by a woman’s charity. She subsequently obtained social housing in the North East of England.

The court found that the mother’s allegations against the father were unfounded, and made an order that the child should share his time between the parents. The court also indicated that it expected the mother to move back south, failing which it would consider making an order that the child live with the father.

The mother appealed against this decision, but the High Court was unable to say that the judge had been wrong, and therefore dismissed the appeal.


Further informationIan Walker Solicitors team

Note that this article only refers to internal relocations, within England and Wales (which essentially have the same legal system). Relocating with a child to another country can only be done with the other parent’s agreement, or a court order.

This article is also just a very brief summary of the law. If you are or may be involved in an internal relocation dispute, then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer.  We can provide the advice that you need. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers, click here.