Location, Location, Location: making a move with a child

Legal issues for separated parents to consider when relocating with a child  

This week Emily Kozien-Colyer, Senior Associate at Manders Law, continues our series of “self-help” blogs for couples involved in separation, where one parent wants to relocate within the United Kingdom and take the children with them.

For many of us it is a time of change with the pandemic either forcing or encouraging people to make changes in their lives.

You may have a new job; have started a new relationship; be in the process of separating; or may simply be looking to make a change to your lifestyle.

This article is intended to help parents in understanding why and how the family court can impose limitations or restrictions where the change sought involves moving, or relocating, with a child, or children within this country. If a move out of this jurisdiction is planned then additional matters must be considered.

To assist you in better understanding the information below an explanation of the legal “jargon” involved is set out:

Glossary-Legal terminology explained

What type of relocation is relevant?

Any relocation which is not agreed by both parents, or by all persons who have parental responsibility, is relevant.

There is no limit in terms of miles or distance. The issue may even apply where both parents are to remain in the same city, but where there is to be a change of location within the same borough which might affect a child’s schooling or other activities.

Who gets to decide?

Ideally there should be an agreement between the parents. If parents cannot agree and if an application is made to the court, then the court can and will ultimately impose a decision on the parents.

If parents do not agree then the parent who wishes to move or relocate can apply to the court for a specific issue order, or for ‘leave to remove’. The parent who seeks to prevent a move or relocation can apply to the court for a prohibited steps order.  

Does one parent have a greater say than the other?

No. Even if the child or children live with one parent and spend time with the other parent, both parents have an equal role in the decision-making process.

What if you have already made plans, arrangements and spent money towards your move?

If there is any doubt at all as to whether the move is agreed by the other parent, you should not make any definitive plans or arrangements, or spend money that you cannot afford to lose. If you do there is a risk that:  

  • the parent who disagrees may make an urgent application for a prohibited steps order to prevent the move
  • the court will then list the application for an urgent hearing
  • you will be required to attend this hearing
  • the court will not have all the information it requires in order to make a long-term decision and is therefore likely to make directions (a list of steps to be taken) and list a further hearing. In the meantime, the court will be obliged to make an interim (temporary) decision. This might deal specifically with child arrangements, or it might simply be an order prohibiting the move until a final decision has been made. The decision is fact specific and will depend on your case. In short it will cost you a great deal of time, money, and stress.

Planning a move or change

Your plans should be as detailed as possible and should be child focused rather than parent focussed. Naturally there are likely to be reasons why you personally wish to move, whether that is a new job, to be closer to family or friends, or a new relationship, but you should bear in mind that if the matter is referred to court the best interests or welfare of the child or children in question will dictate the outcome, not your personal drivers.

Factors that the court will consider

The welfare of the child or children in question will be the court’s paramount consideration.

Guidance in case law suggests that the questions below be asked and considered by the judge who is deciding the application. It is therefore sensible to have these factors in mind at an early stage and when thinking about and planning a potential move:

  • what are your motivations? The court will be mindful of whether you are motivated by a desire to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. You should be able to disprove this.   
  • are your plans realistic? Are they based on practical proposals that are both well researched and investigated?
  • what would be the effect of a refusal on the parent seeking the move?
  • what is motivating the parent who opposes the move? The court will be mindful of whether the opposition is based on a genuine concern for the child, or some ulterior motive.
  • what would be the effect of a grant of leave on the parent opposing the move and on their relationship with the child or children?
  • to what extent would any detriment be offset by extension of relationships (for example with maternal or paternal family if the child is moving back to an area that the applicant originates from and has family there).

What about a dream job or a change of lifestyle?

It will very much depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, but it is likely to be harder to argue for a relocation in pursuit of a dream, but if there is real economic necessity behind the move that needs to be explained.

Is there any difference between a lifestyle case and a wish to return “home” or to take up a specific employment opportunity (either for you or another family member)?

No, the same principles will be applied, but consider your answers to the questions listed above carefully as they may be more compelling.

What about a new family or a new relationship?

Where the child or children live with you and you are planning to care for them within a family unit by marriage, the court will very carefully consider the impact of refusal.

What about your rights?

In certain cases, whatever decision the court makes will involve interference with the rights of one parent (and specifically Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for private and family life), either because of the restriction imposed, or because of the potential damage to the relationship between the child and the parent who has been left behind.

The court is obliged to carefully examine the interests and wishes of each of the parents, but in relocation cases at times the options (yes or no) will have stark consequences for one of the parents. It is always the best interests of the child which should dictate the outcome.

Top Tips if you are considering a move or a big change

  • have a clear and well researched plan
  • engage in clear and early communication with the other parent. Where possible, any discussions should be backed up in writing.  
  • be aware of what you should do to seek leave if agreement cannot be reached, and what the other parent could do in the event that you do not
  • if possible seek legal advice (even if only in the background) at an early stage

For an initial FREE consultation on any aspect of family law, call Manders Law on 01245 895 105 or email us here.

Note: this blog is intended to give an overview (rather than comprehensive guidance and advice) on your legal or financial position and is provided for information only. It is not an endorsement of any product or service provider.

We are using cookies to give you the best experience. You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in privacy settings.
AcceptPrivacy Settings


  • Google Analytics

Google Analytics

We use Google Analytics to collect and store certain anonymous information when you use, access, or interact with this website. This information is only used by us to help improve our digital services and user experience.