Upon breakdown of a relationship it is not uncommon for one party to wish to relocate to a different country, either for better employment opportunities or to return to his or her roots where he or she perhaps has family or friends. However, where a separated couple have children, such a decision is not straightforward.
Generally, both parents will have parental rights and responsibilities in relation to their children. A mother automatically obtains parental rights and responsibilities and a father obtains such rights and responsibilities if he was either married to the mother or, alternatively, is included on the child’s Birth Certificate as the father. The consent of anybody with parental rights and responsibilities is required before one parent can choose to relocate a child to another country. If such consent is not forthcoming, then the parent who wishes to relocate requires to apply to the court for an Order. Whether or not that Order will be granted depends upon a range of factors, but will ultimately be determined upon what is deemed to be in the child or children’s best interests.
We recently acted on behalf of a father who did not wish his child to relocate to Qatar with her mother. The mother was able to show that she would have better employment opportunities and an increased salary as a result of the proposed move. She was also able to show that she would be able to spend more time with her child. Importantly, due to the child’s age, her views required to be established and the child indicated she was in favour of the move to Qatar. The level of contact which she had with her father was limited to only three hours per fortnight.
Notwithstanding all of this, the Sheriff found in favour of the father. It was determined that it was not in the child’s best interests to relocate, even although she had expressed a clear wish to do so.
Understandably, such cases are extremely difficult and often traumatic for the parents involved. It is vital that legal advice is obtained at an early stage in connection with any proposed relocation. Expert witnesses, such as child psychologists, can be involved in such cases and the Court also requires to take a child’s views into account if he or she is mature enough to express a view.