Austin Chessell looks at some of the main principles of the law on International Relocation and discusses how parents can use them in family mediation as an alternative to going to court to help them shape their own agreement on whether relocation with children should take place.
With the growth in cheap flights and increasing employment prospects arising from globalisation it is becoming more common for separated parents to consider permanently relocating abroad and wanting to take their children with them.
Consent needs to be given by the non-relocating parent for the relocation to take place which is rarely easy to obtain as it inevitably creates further tension between the parents and re-opens the pain experienced during the initial post separation childcare discussions.
The non-relocating parent often fears losing all contact with the child if relocation happens.
Where relocation is contested, it is worth considering what the main legal principles are which determine whether the relocation should take place and whether consent is best obtained through the courts or by mediation.
In my experience, mediation is often more successful where parents have a good understanding of these legal principles and can then use them to shape their own relocation agreements.
The leading cases which parents need to be aware of are:
Payne v Payne  EWCA Civ 166
This was an unsuccessful appeal by a father against an order allowing the mother (who significantly was the main carer) to remove the child to New Zealand. The guidance in this case is known as the ‘Payne Test.’
The test means that the court must consider if the proposed relocation:
derives from a genuine desire to start a new life abroad (i.e. not being selfishly motivated to cut one parent out of the child’s life)
- has been well thought out and researched having regard to the practicalities of the situation.
If the application to relocate is deemed to be genuine and realistic, the court must then weigh up:
- if the opposing parent’s reasons are based on a genuine concern for the future child’s welfare, or if there is an ulterior motive.
- what effect the relocation would have on the relationship between the parent who is not relocating and the child. The court will also need to consider the extent to which this would be balanced by any new relationships that the child would form in the relocation country.
- what the impact would be on the parent who proposed the move if the application was refused.
While taking the guidance into account, the court’s paramount concern will always be the child’s welfare.
However, in Re K  EWCA Civ 793 the Court of Appeal ruled that the only point of law from the Payne case was that the child’s best interests must be the paramount consideration of the court. In this case, (unlike Payne) care was shared between the parents.
The court decided that in shared care cases the application should be decided on the facts of each case, the welfare of the child and the statutory considerations which are set out in s.1(3) of the Children Act 1989, often referred to as the ‘Welfare Checklist’.
In Re K a father brought a successful appeal against an order which gave the mother permission to leave and take the children to Canada.
The court confirmed that in the circumstances of this case the approach followed in Payne v Payne was not appropriate because care was shared between the parents which require a deeper analysis of the impact of the relocation on the child. As a result of this case a lot of parents may now find it harder to persuade the court that the relocation should take place where there is a shared care arrangement in place.
Payne is only applicable where the relocating parent is the main carer.
Consideration must be given to all of the facts.
Key findings from relocation case law are:
– The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration and all other criteria should feed into this.
– In deciding which solution will best meet the child’s welfare, consideration should be given to the guidance set out in the Welfare Checklist where care is shared and to the Payne Test where there is a main carer for the child.
– Leave to remove applications must be made in a way which does not obstruct contact nor weaken the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent.
– The relocating parent must have planned the move having regard to the practicalities e.g. it is better if the move is at the end of the school year rather than in the middle of the school term, having good access to healthcare, immigration laws not being a major obstacle and the non-relocating parent still being able to still have good contact with the child.
– The court will have regard to the impact which a refusal of the application will have on the relocating parent where s/he is the primary carer e.g. the primary carer feeling isolated and lonely if the move is not granted.
– It is important in every case to consider what the effect of the reduction in contact time with the parent who is not relocating will be on the child.
– If the child is an older child then its wishes, views and feelings will carry more weight in the relocation decision.
As a mediator my role is different to when I am acting as a solicitor in that in mediation I can only share the above legal information with mediation clients but cannot advise them. Parents can then use that information and seek legal advice from solicitors where appropriate to make joint decisions on the relocation through mediation.
In August 2013, Dr Rob George from Oxford University found in a report called Relocation Disputes in England and Wales: First Findings from the 2012 Study that one third of all requests for relocation are not permitted by the family courts.
In the current economic climate parents are questioning why they should spend potentially tens of thousands of pounds on a relocation case involving several hearings when the case can be mediated in a quicker and more cost effective way (especially where a relocation allowance has not been provided by an employer) and, in light of Dr George’s report, may stand a higher chance of success.
Every mediation case is unique based on the client’s circumstances, but the following are issues that commonly arise in international relocation cases which parents (and mediators) need to consider:
- Childcare time – when should the contact take place and where?
- Who is booking and paying for the international travel?
- If the child is young how will they travel? Will relatives need to be involved to ensure travel can take place.
- Will contact between the child and the non-relocating parent take place during term time and in what form. e.g. face to face, email, phone or Skype?
- Making decisions for future education, after school activities and medical treatments – it may be that the parent who is not relocating wants to visit the school abroad or neighbourhood before any schooling decisions are made.
- Being provided with copies of future medical records and school reports.
- If an order is prepared after mediation, will this need to be mirrored abroad? The clients will need to liaise with their legal advisors here and abroad to get this confirmed.
- If the order is not followed, should the relocating parent provide a legal costs allowance for the parent who is not relocating? There may not be funds for this but in some cases there may be.
- Will the parent not relocating have more contact prior to the move.
- Will the parent agree for the relocation to be for a defined time before returning?
- Will the children return in the future for their university education? If the children are old enough and the parents agree, the mediator can meet with the children to find out their wishes and feelings on this and then pass agreed information back to the parents before a decision is made.
- How will extended family members remain involved with the children?
- Will the relocation take place in a way that is not disruptive to the child?
I have worked on relocation cases through the courts as a solicitor and through mediation as a family mediator. In my experience parents communicate better in mediation than they do in litigation as the focus is on collective interests not fixed positions.
If a parent is unhappy with a court decision, litigation will most likely continue with appeals being made, but, in mediation, parents tend to respect what was agreed and rarely look to amend a Memorandum of Understanding.
With Mediation Information Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) likely to become compulsory for all applicants if the Children and Families Bill 2012-2013 is enacted, it would not be surprising if more international relocation cases are resolved through mediation rather than through the court system.
Austin Chessell is an accredited Family and Child Mediator at FAMIA (www.famia.co.uk) across Inner and Greater London. Austin is also a Professional Practice Consultant.
Austin is a Collaborative Family Solicitor at Feltons Solicitors in Knightsbridge.