Q: My ex-partner has told me that she and her new partner intend to move to New Zealand with our three children. Her partner has been offered a job there, and she sees it as an “opportunity of a lifetime". I would like the children to remain here. This is the only country they’ve lived in; they are settled here, doing well in school, enjoy lots of activities and friends, and all their extended family live here. My ex has said that she is taking them and I can’t stop her. What can I do?
A: This is understandably a worrying time for you. You don’t say if there is already a Child Arrangements Order in place or not, or what the current arrangements for the children are. From what you have said, the children sound very settled where they are, and their entire lives are centred on the area where they live.
For a parent to move a child abroad to live, they would require the agreement of all those with Parental Responsibility (which is usually just the other parent), or they would need to obtain leave (permission) from the Family Court.
This means that if you don’t agree to your wife taking your children abroad, she will need to apply to the Family Court for a Specific issue Order, requesting leave to take the children to New Zealand. This application is commonly known as "Leave to Remove". Alternatively, you could apply for a Prohibited Steps Order that would stop your ex taking your children out of the UK – it won’t prevent her freedom of movement, so she would still be free to move to New Zealand, but not with the children.
The well-being of your children will always be the priority. Any decision about whether the children move must be made in their best interests, and the Court would expect the parent wishing to move to demonstrate clearly how the move would benefit the children and enhance their lives. The “opportunity of a lifetime” and all that it would bring to your children needs to be weighed up against what they would lose by moving: the disruption to their education, the loss of time and relationships with you and their extended family, losing their friendships and giving up on the activities they currently enjoy.
Similarly, if you apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the move, you would need to explain how the move would disadvantage the children and why it would not be in their best interests.
The starting point would be to discuss this proposal with your ex. Family mediation would provide a neutral platform where you can both be heard and express your thoughts in equal measure. The mediator can work with you both to help you come to an agreement. If no agreement can be reached, then court would be the only way forward to resolve this issue.
If you do consent to your children moving to New Zealand, then it would be wise to discuss and agree contact arrangements such as how often and where the children will be able to spend time with you, who will travel, who will pay for the travel, and how will contact be maintained between those visits (the time difference would need to be factored in as New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of the UK). These arrangements could be set out in the Oratto Parenting Plan. Depending on the ages of the children, their views should also be taken into account. Older children tend to have stronger and established connections to the area in which they live, and it can be difficult for them to give these up in the event of a move. You will need to consider the emotional impact that being separated for very long periods of time will have on both you and your children. This is likely to be difficult to adjust to, especially if they have been spending very regular time with you since the separation.
An alternative would be for the children to remain here with you and for your ex and her partner move to New Zealand. The children could enjoy extended holidays in New Zealand with their Mum and maintain regular contact via video and phone calls.
You do need to be pro-active in this. Make clear your views and thoughts on the proposed move and keep your communications child-focused and civil. It is important that you receive legal advice from a family law solicitor as soon as possible to talk through your options and to help you decide on the best step forward.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.