Can You Relocate Your Children Within The UK Following A Divorce?


One of the most contentious and difficult issues family law solicitors face is whereby the parent with whom children predominantly live wishes to move across the country following a divorce or breakdown of a cohabiting relationship.

Reasons for moving are many and varied.  With house prices in London and the South East remaining high, many young families are moving North to raise children.  But long commutes are sustainable when working as a team; single parents find them almost intolerable.  However, there is no guarantee your ex-spouse will agree to let you and their children move back to the capital.  The same applies if you are offered a lucrative career opportunity in another city.

The other common reason for parents wishing to relocate is meeting a new partner who lives in another part of the country.  Often, they will have children who they do not want to move too far away from.  This can cause extreme tension between parents – one who is desperate to move on with their future and the other who is determined not to see their children moved to a place where regular contact is limited due to distance.

The law relating to internal relocation

A parent who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live is not required to ask permission from others who have Parental Responsibility if they wish to relocate within the UK.  This is not the case if a parent wishes to move to another country with the children, in which case written permission from everyone who has Parental Responsibility or approval from the Court must be sought.  However, if the other person objects to the internal relocation, they can apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order or a Specific Issue Order.  Prohibited Steps Order are orders put in place to prevent one parent from making a particular decision about a child’s upbringing.  Specific Issue Orders are designed to determine a specific question which has arisen between those designated Parental Responsibility.  It may be that the person who wishes to move but knows their ex-partner will object applies for a Specific Issue Order permitting the move.

The remaining parent may also apply to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order for a condition to be attached on the CAO as to the location at which the child must reside.

How the Courts deal with internal relocation cases

The latest decision on the issue of internal relocation was made in 2015, when the Court of Appeal reviewed past cases relating to the matter and clarified the law.

The case of Re C (A child) (Internal relocation) involved the mother of a 10-year-old who wished to relocate from London to Cumbria.  The child lived predominantly with her mother and spent two nights a week and every second weekend at her father’s house.

The mother had family in Cumbria, which would make it easier for her to work.  The father wished the child arrangements to remain the same and applied for a Shared Residence Order.  The mother applied for a Specific Issue Order permitting her to move with her daughter to Cumbria.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer reviewed the matter and stated the move would not be in the child’s best interests, even though the girl had told the officer she was excited about the move to Cumbria and was confident her relationship with her father would remain strong.

At first instance, the Recorder allowed the mother’s application for a Specific Issue Order permitting the move.  The father appealed.

The Court of Appeal considered two main factors:

  1. a) whether the principles which applied to internal relocation differed from those of relocating abroad, and
  2. b) whether a rule existed that an internal relocation should only be permitted in ‘exceptional cases’.

After reviewing previous authorities, the Court held there was no difference in the basic approach between cases of external and internal relocation, and the remaining parent does not have to establish that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ which should prevent the other moving.  The paramount consideration was the welfare of the child and the entire case needed to be considered with this as the background, whilst considering factors such as the motivation behind the move, the child’s relationship with the remaining parent and the practicalities of maintaining the relationship between the child and the remaining parent if the move is permitted.

Where the law stands now on internal relocation

Following the decision in Re C the following applies to internal child relocation disputes:

At Hart Reade, each of our family law solicitors are members of Resolution.  In addition, many of our team are Collaborative Lawyers.  Both organisations advocate for using non-confrontational methods for resolving family law disputes.

We can provide you with a wealth of information, advice and support regarding children’s law matters.  To talk to any of the family law team, please call us on 01323 727 321. 

Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.