Divorce & Family

International Relocation of Children

A recent debate in the House of Commons has highlighted the English Courts’ out of date approach to the international relocation of children.

There is a heavy bias in favour of the parent with care when it comes to applications to take that child out of England to another foreign country.

The English Courts will consider the reasons for the move (for example, a foreign national returning home after the breakdown of their marriage) but too much weight is given to the potential effect on the parent with care if permission is refused to move with the child.

However, international studies suggest that the greater impact on the child is being separated from the other parent, particularly as the costs and difficulties of maintaining international contact can lead to the left-behind parent becoming estranged from their child.

Instead of the current approach, priority should be given to children maintaining a fulfilling relationship with both parents.  Also, greater account should be taken of the wider background of the particular family situation.

This issue was also the subject of the Washington Declaration on International Family Relocation in March 2010 which suggested a uniform approach on international relocation wherever the case is heard in the world.   The key principle arising from the Washington Conference was that the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in every case and therefore judicial decisions should be made without any presumption for or against relocation.

It seems unlikely that the UK Parliament will introduce new laws to address this issue.  Therefore, what is needed is a case to be taken to the Supreme Court in order to bring about a change in the approach of the English Courts.  The signs are promising as Lord Justice Thorpe has recently hinted that this is an area that is ripe for change.