One third of all relocations requests are refused by the family courts, new research reveals

Children|Divorce|Family|Family Law|September 13th 2013

There can be a little doubt that the role of the divorced Dad has changed considerably in recent decades. Not so long ago, the stereotype was of a remote figure, one who made no more than fleeting appearances in his children’s lives and whose primary role was to open his wallet. Nowadays – thankfully! – far more emphasis is placed an active role for both parents and the concept of shared parenting has gained considerable legal currency.

Despite the claims of some campaigners, the courts do take the concept of contact seriously. Indeed, most  now expect the non-resident parent to play an active role in their children’s lives. But even parents able to agree on seeing the kids without court orders can run into big problems when one of the former couple wants to move away. This could be to somewhere else within the UK, or – even worse from the non-resident parent’s point of view – to a different country.

It happens for various reasons –the resident parent may plan to take a new job, to move in with a new partner, or simply want to return home. In such instances, the ex can find themselves facing real dilemma – with work and personal commitments, most cannot follow their former to their new home, but if they do not, contact with their kids hundreds, even thousands, of miles away could dwindle to almost nothing.

Luckily there are legal safeguards – the courts can order the resident parent to stay put. The welfare of the child is a paramount consideration in family law and judging whether or not the advantages to the children of life in their planned new home would outweigh the disadvantages of losing regular contact with their other parent can be very difficult.

Legal academic legal academic Dr Rob George of Oxford University has just released preliminary results from some illuminating new research into relocation applications.

The headline figure? One third of all applications for the international relocation of children are refused by family courts.

Just under 67 per cent of applications to take children abroad following divorce or separation are approved, according to the study. Dr George said the result was “noteworthy”. He added: “ Given that English law was said to be ‘pro-relocation’, it is interesting to compare this figure with the equivalent data from Canada (68%) and New Zealand (68%), which are respectively ‘neutral’ and ‘anti-relocation’.”

Meanwhile the success rate for internal relocation applications was only slightly higher – just over 70 per cent were approved by the courts. As the academic and blogger notes:

“Given that orders restricting internal relocation are thought to be unusual, it may be surprising that this figure was so similar to that for international relocation”

Dr George combined data from 118 court decisions – before any went to appeal –with 187 questionnaires completed by family lawyers, in order to try and capture trends from unreported cases.

One of the most interesting aspects of the study is insight into the factors influencing court decisions. It turns out that the courts are significantly more likely to approve relocation requests when the children never stay overnight at the home of the non-resident parent – 75 per cent of such applications are approved by the courts, compared to just 55 per cent of cases where the children do stay overnight. But the frequency of such visits did not make a meaningful difference.

Presumably judges see overnight visits as a meaningful token of involvement by the other parent – and an indication, too, of the children’s attachment to that parent.

Another notable element of Dr George’s research is number of cases in which both parents shared the care of their children: in nearly 50 per cent of cases, this varied half and half and 65 vs 35 per cent of care. I don’t think it is a stretch to conclude that this statistic may have a lot to do with the higher than expected relocation refusal rate.

The days of the distant Dad are numbered, it seems.

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  1. Luke says:

    “75 per cent of such applications are approved by the courts, compared to just 55 per cent of cases where the children do stay overnight. But the frequency of such visits did not make a meaningful difference.”
    The latter figure should be virtually ZERO !

    I don’t think the days of the distant Dad are numbered at all, I think these figures are truly shockingly biased against fathers – I didn’t know the court decisions were as awful as that 🙁

  2. Paul says:

    You would be more accurate with your piece and the present state of affairs regarding shared parenting, were you to acknowledge that a large majority of relocation applications were still being granted.

  3. Nick Langford (@4orseti) says:

    None of these figures means anything without some sort of historical perspective. Are they better, for example, than 20 years ago, or worse? Are applications for LTR up or down? Are applications for prohibited steps orders up or down?

    George observes a North/South divide which was also commented on pre-1989. My guess is that little has changed, though now Thorpe has gone and judges like Mostyn are querying his ideology there may be some hope for non-resident parents.

  4. Bill says:

    I agree with Luke, Nick and Paul, and it is no accident (once again) that they are all men, who would appear to have seen how fathers are treated.

    As for the last sentence in the article, I think Karen Woodall would disagree strongly, and talk about how dads have only become more alienated in recent years.
    On her account, it would be more apt to say: ‘The days of the involved dad are numbered.’

  5. Singledad says:

    Pathetic – 2/3rd of relocations are still being granted and the fact which the author blatantly avoids stating clearly is the practice of relocation being granted when there is A SHARED RESIDENCE OF 50/50 TIME OR 65/35 TIME SPENT WHICH IS HORRIFYING. This is a straight forward breach of human rights of the child and it is impossible to prove to anyone but a crooked judge that its in a childs best welfare to relocate in such a circumstance.

    I wish they would also not obscure the facts by breaking down the percentage of successes by gender i.e. % of successful applications when mother applies and % when father applies. I’m sure the increase in % of fathers applying causes the overall figures to reduce – judges would just deny fathers relocation but allow mothers where the father is in an equal parenting arrangement to relocate anyway. Bah – legal professionals and indeed researchers are really underhanded when it comes to reporting these statistics. It is their bread and butter. If people found a sane way of resolving family issues without the court they would all be out on the street. I don’t doubt for one second they would fight tooth and nail to allow a sensible and cost effective system that truly benefits children’s welfare to manifest. We have push to achieve that as parents. No one else cares for your children besides you as a parent. Social services and lawyers look at your kids as a pay cheque. I’ve yet to be proven wrong.

  6. one who knows says:

    I used to believe articles like this before going through the family court system – here are a few examples from the real world that the pros won’t tell you.

    Internal relocation 300 miles away from sibling / paternal and maternal family / friends. Everyone except M basically.
    Cafcass report recommends against relocation for reasons of child welfare.
    Verdict : Relocation granted, no permission to appeal.
    Child (8 yr old boy) now sleeps in Ms bed every night and is a year behind at school. Healthy eh?

    Contact :
    Judicial quotes on contact of alternate w/ends and 3 hours midweek.
    “the contact is more than adequate.”
    “the contact is generous.”

    Contact Enforcement :
    Requires criminal burden of proof so only useful for extreme cases. Otherwise expect muddying of the waters by M (child had cold / other commitments etc) and subsequent verdict.
    Verdict : 13k costs awarded to M – no permission to appeal. (later reduced to 3k after appeal)

    Shared residence – if you’re at court, you’re in dispute. If you’re in dispute, shared residence won’t be granted.
    Verdict : no (unless granting relocation then yes, when it makes no practical difference.)

    DV – False allegations are standard practice. Sols will always encourage insinuation, without fact finding or specifics.

    Mediation – Courts do not enforce in any real manner. Lip service only and the DV get-out encourages false claims.

    Obviously all cases are different, but if you’re a regular dad who wants involvement in your child’s life despite a hostile mum, the court will not help you beyond alternate w/end contact. Accept it.

    Dads, take it from one who has been through it. I started off thinking that the family courts were child focused and even handed. They are not. I’ve used sols, self repped, researched, spoken to many other mums and dads.

    Self repping – you lose.
    Using sols – dads lose, unless
    a. M is self repping
    b. you are trying to achieve alternate weekend contact and nothing else.

    Save your energy, time, money and emotional wellbeing. When you split up you don’t get a say in your kids residence, health, education or time. Accept that, keep paying the CSA, enjoy your alternate weekends and if you can’t deal with that reality, then walk away from the child like the million others who have.

  7. Yvie says:

    I remember someone who had recently been divorced telling my son something similar at the time of his separation – along the lines, for your own peace of mind, walk away and don’t look back. My son didn’t take the advice, but his neighbour was right about the emotional and financial nightmare which followed, and which has taken a toll on my son’s health. The cast-iron stomach which he had always taken for granted, is no more!

    Looking back, he would still do the same, as not to play a large part in the life of his children, was never an option.

  8. Andrew says:

    You need to know how many relocations just happen – father does not know there is anything he can do about it or accepts the fait accompli.

  9. Bruno Ditri says:

    Over recent years, greater importance has indeed been placed by the judiciary upon the Right of a child to maintain a close and meaningful relationship with both its natural parents post separation/divorce. The rate of overseas separation has been reduced accordingly.
    However, with two thirds of removal applications still being granted, more needs to be done.
    Whilst the ‘backbone’ of Payne v Payne was broken due to cases such as Re D (2010) EWCA Civ 50, its defunct and outdated ideology still pervades in the minds of our senior judiciary.
    Namely, the belief that the mother is the natural caregiver and the father, the natural financial provider, that children do not require a close bond with both parents in order to flourish and that a mother’s ability to parent adequately will be crushed if her relocation wishes are thwarted.
    Bruno Ditri

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