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.