Relocation, Relocation: A Guide to the Law on Family Relocation


Deciding to move away can be an exciting time – especially if you're going to be closer to family or if you're starting a new job. But for people who are separated from their child's other parent, achieving this can seem a mammoth task.

Child playing outside

Recently, the law on relocating with children has been clarified with a landmark case that decided internal relocation (within the UK) and external relocation (outside the UK) should not be treated differently.

Emma Hopkins Jones, an Associate Solicitor specialising in Family Law, has a great deal of experience handling child arrangement and relocation cases. Emma explains this law change and other frequently asked relocation questions.

How Has The Law Changed?

Up until very recently, the rules on how the courts make a decision in internal and external relocation cases have been different.

The case of Re E (Residence: Imposition of Conditions) in 1997 held that in internal cases, a parent should usually be allowed to relocate; only if there are exceptional circumstances will they be prevented from doing so. This principle has been criticised as it failed to clearly lay out what 'exceptional circumstances' might be.

Lady Justice Black, decided to resolve this issue in December 2015 in the case of Re C (Internal Relocation), she said; "All in all... matters should be approached as an analysis of the best interests of the child, whether the relocation is internal or external."

Emma, who is based at our Leeds office, comments on this change:

"In some cases, the fallout from a move can be similar regardless of whether it's external or internal - say for example, if the move was from London to Northern Ireland, the impact could be just as significant."

"This decision makes it clear that no differentiation will be drawn between internal and external cases. It's good to see that the best interests of the child and the welfare principle will be the paramount factor considered in all cases going forward."

What are the Common Reasons for Relocation?

Whilst every case is different and should be considered on its individual facts, there are some reasons for relocation that we see more often:

  • The parent or their new partner needs to relocate for work or wishes to start a new job.
  • They want to be closer to friends and family – this is the case especially for many who moved to be closer to their partner's family or job, it can be felt there's little reason to stay after separation.
  • Wanting to move to be with a new partner.
  • Wishing to be closer to where you grew up or to a nicer area for your children to grow up.

Whatever your reasons are for moving, the law has now made clear that the paramount factor to be considered is whether the move will be in the child's best interests.

The welfare principle as laid out in the Children Act 1989 includes factors to be considered such as;

  1. The child's wishes and feelings,
  2. Their physical, emotional and educational needs,
  3. The effect the change will have on the child,
  4. Their age, sex, background or any characteristics the court considers relevant,
  5. Any harm she/he may suffer, and
  6. How capable the parents are in meeting the child's needs.

Do I Have to Ask for Permission to Leave?

You do not have to ask for permission from the court to move within the UK (internal relocation). Only if the other parent disagrees with your decision to move elsewhere and believes it to be against the best interests of the child, may you need to go to court.

Internal relocation is classed as a move anywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; this doesn't include the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.

It can be very difficult to reach an agreement on the move between you – especially when the move is very far away and the other parent is involved in the child's everyday life. If the parent that isn't moving disagrees with the relocation, they could take action including:

  • Making an application for a Prohibited Steps Order to prohibit the move.
  • An application for a Child Arrangement Order to define who the child is to live with, or
  • If a Child Arrangement Order is already in place, an application could be made to vary the order and add conditions.

For relocation outside the UK, you will need to ask for permission. Anyone who plans to take a child out of the jurisdiction when another person has parental responsibility needs to receive written consent from each person or seek authorisation from the court.

Family Relocation Legal Advice

Every relocation case is different and needs legal support tailored to your individual circumstances. Our Family Law team at Simpson Millar are experienced in all aspects of relocation law; we'll be here to advise should you want your rights clarified and be on hand to offer support should disputes arise.

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