Moving Abroad with Children: Maintaining Family Bonds

A divorce or breakdown of a relationship where children are involved will seriously affect how a family is set up. This is especially true if one or both parents decide to move abroad. Such a move could be a result of a new job, the desire to be closer to family or simply a wish to start a new life in a different location. It could also be a result of one or both parties meeting new partners who do not live in the same country as them.

Whatever the reason, relocating with children is not a simple process. Whether it happens as a result of a divorce or separation, or takes place a long time after the split, it can raise feelings of worry, anger and fear about how the children are going to stay in touch with the parent who is no longer living in the same country as they do.

Several considerations must be taken into account, such as changes in lifestyle, standards of living and friendship groups. How will the children stay in contact with their wider family? How old are the children and how easily will they adapt to their new home? Are they at a stage in their education and development that can withstand a move to a different country? Here are some more questions to think about.

Do you need permission for relocating with children to another country?

If both parents hold parental responsibility, then they will both need to give their consent to their children moving abroad after a separation or divorce. Mothers are normally granted parental responsibility of their children automatically from birth, although this can be disputed later in certain circumstances.

Fathers can gain parental responsibility by being married to the mother when the child is born or by being named on the birth certificate. He can also enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother via a court parental responsibility order or child arrangement order. Having parental responsibility is the first step and main way to ensure that your former partner or spouse will need your permission for relocating with your children abroad.

What happens if one parent does not give consent for relocating with children to another country?

Should one parent or anyone else with parental responsibility not give their consent for the children to move abroad, the case will need to go to court. This refusal could be for all sorts of reasons, from hostility and a desire to cause problems to genuine fear that they will lose meaningful contact with their children if they move too far away. In this case, the person proposing to move away with the children will need to obtain an order giving consent.

Another option is to try mediation. This can help everyone involved to discuss the situation calmly with the help of a neutral facilitator. Issues like access and visitation rights, how long the children will spend in their new country, medical and schooling decisions and more can be discussed openly and mutual agreements made with having to go to court.

What steps can be taken to stop a former partner or spouse preventing the move?

If you are wishing to take your children to live abroad, but your former spouse or partner will not give their permission, there are a number of steps you can take to try and get consent from a court instead. A common step is to make a specific issue order under section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989. This order is granted by a family court in circumstances when parents with parental responsibility cannot agree on a decision about their children. It puts the children’s welfare first and considers all sides of the debate. Including the effect that such a move could have on the children’s relationships with everyone involved.

The court then makes a final decision that all parties must abide by. Where children are considered old enough and to have capacity to have a say, their views will also be taken into account. If a parent moves their child abroad without the consent of other parental responsibility holders or the family court, this is considered an illegal act and could amount to child abduction. This is the case even if the children themselves are happy to make the move and it can be proven that they are being well cared for.

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