What happens if you want to relocate after a divorce?

Due to the nature of worldwide travel and relationships it is a common occurrence that when a relationship breakdown occurs and a family is split up, that one or other of the couple may wish to relocate, either overseas or within the UK in order to be closer to their family and friend support network or to pursue work that they have to do in order to support their family.  Many people find themselves wondering what happens if you want to relocate after a divorce?

If a mother, for example, wishes to move back to her home town with the two children, the father can be left bereft in his home town or where they set up their life together.  The situation becomes even more traumatic if the relocation is overseas as the parent left behind not only has to contend with the upset of not seeing their children as frequently, but the additional expense and time implications of the travel involved to see them face to face.

It all depends on whether the children’s father agrees to the move, or if he can be persuaded to do so. If an agreement cannot be reached a court will have to be persuaded that the move you propose is in the children’s best interests.

Therefore, your first move should usually be to seek to attempt to discuss your potential move with the children’s other parent to help them understand why you want to move, and what benefits it would offer to the children. If you have a good relationship with your former partner, you could try to do this just between the two of you; you should make sure, of course, that the children are not around. It is also often wise to have these sorts of discussions in a neutral place. Writing down in advance the main points you wish to get across so you don’t get flustered, and being patient – don’t expect a response or agreement straight away, can help. It might be sensible to ask for a response within a couple of weeks so that you know what could happen next.

Mediation can also help with this aspect of the discussion.  Alternatively your solicitor could negotiate on your behalf with the other parent or their solicitor.  If this does not help, the only option is to let the court make a decision.

There are a number of factors that the court will consider in assessing this. The question of how it might affect the parent if they were not allowed to go, and how it might affect the children’s father if they were allowed to go, are not standalone issues but must be considered as they affect the children. If they are old enough and can understand enough about the issues involved, the children’s wishes and feelings may also be a major factor in the court’s assessment, although the court will not necessarily agree to do what they want.

UK Relocation

This is known legally as ‘internal relocation’ – that is, moving a family to a different part of England and Wales but not abroad away from the reach of the English courts. If you have managed to arrange the care of your children after divorce or separation without involving the courts, then technically you and the children who live with you can move wherever you like in England or Wales.  In reality, any change to the arrangements that you have had in the past may lead the other parent to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order that might stop you from going.

Overseas Relocation

These cases are always tricky. If a court gives permission for a relocation, then the parent remaining in this country will be bereft, and left facing arduous and expensive journeys to see their child face to face. If permission is refused then the parent who wanted to leave, often to return to a home country or to one where they have family support, will be left feeling stranded and isolated in a country in which they no longer want to live, but stuck by the court’s decision.  Judges carefully scrutinise each case, with many applications being refused.

Fundamentally, they will be asking what is the right thing for the children. If you can show that it is better for them to go with you than whatever alternative plan is proposed by their other parent, the court is likely to support your plans to move. However, there are no guarantees: each family, and indeed each child, is individual, and decisions made by the courts in these cases are highly fact-specific.


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