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What happens to the children if me and my ex want to live in two different countries?

By now, most of us will have seen the stories circulating about Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner’s divorce. Whilst some parts are reportedly fairly straightforward, like their watertight prenup, it seems there may be some contentious issues regarding their two daughters and child custody battles.

Seemingly, the young girls have had their official residence in England, the home of Turner, their mother. However, they are currently living in the United States with Jonas and the couple, after some back-and-forth, including a claim of ‘wrongful detention’ and child abduction, have decided to temporarily keep the children in New York. Child custody battles over the country of habitual residence can be extremely stressful for both parents and children.

Although this may seem like a dispute only the super-wealthy and celebrities have, divorce cases involving children and two different jurisdictions do happen and child abduction in the context of divorce is more common than we may realise.

Removing a child or children from the jurisdiction (i.e. from England or Wales) without the permission of the Court or the other parent, if there is a Child Arrangements Order or Residence Order in place, is known as international abduction. Sadly, international abduction is becoming increasingly common.

Parental Child Abduction is where a parent or guardian of a child takes them out of their country of habitual residence – where they normally live – without the permission of others with parental responsibility or the courts.

If you plan to move away, particularly abroad, after separating from your partner, it is best that this is agreed with your ex before any changes take place to prevent difficulties arising and potentially contentious and costly court proceedings. Mediation can assist in resolving these disputes and keeping the parents relationship amicable, which is in the children’s best interests.

You can reach an agreement without using a divorce lawyer, but this agreement will not be legally binding should disputes arise down the line. However, for a legally binding document, you will need to obtain a child arrangements order and you should seek legal advice.

Adding an international element to the situation throws a further spanner in the works as you as parents, or the Court should proceedings go down this route, will need to decide which country is going to be the habitual residence of the children and therefore where the children will live.

Child custody battles in divorce can be exceptionally complicated, especially when habitual residence comes into play. However, there are laws in place that protect the children, and the child/ren’s wellbeing, along with the arrangements that will be in the children’s best interests, will be the ultimate focus of the family court.

Whilst the drama of a celebrity divorce such as Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’ can seem intense and sometimes overly acrimonious, what is going on behind the scenes is legally difficult as well as being a highly emotionally charged subject.

Where the children should live if the parents are wanting to split to different countries is usually decided by the court (if the parents cannot agree), but further obstacles can arise with which country’s legal system should make the decision which may be the case for Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’ girls given that they are currently staying in New York.

It is essential if you find yourself in a multi-jurisdictional dispute, i.e. child custody battles across two different countries, that you seek professional advice from a lawyer in all jurisdictions concerned to ensure the enforceability of any order made. Our lawyers at Stowe are experts in tricky child cases and will be able to support you, and your children, through your unique situation.

Useful Links

Changing a Child Arrangements Order

Bristol Break Up Club: Will divorce damage my children?

Co-parenting calmly

Supporting children through divorce

Rachel is based at the Stowe Family Law office in Bristol. She joined the firm in February 2018. She represents clients in divorce and financial remedy proceedings. She has extensive experience of working with unmarried clients and understands the issues that cohabitants face.

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