Children, Residence And Resistance
Published on 31 October, 2023 | Katie Welton-Dillon
No break-up between parents is ever easy.
In my experience, that is true regardless of whether they are married or have been cohabiting.
It is only natural for couples to experience some distress or upset when it happens, no matter how long they have been together.
Even so, it is vital that the adults set aside their own emotions in order to ensure that they do what is in their children’s best interests.
That is something upon which the law and the family courts which implement are utterly clear.
The law governing how separated parents raise sons or daughters – the Children Act 1989 – is explicit, in fact, in stating that “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration” in any case which come before it
Given the premium placed upon that point, it is important that parents adhere to whatever decision the court makes.
Sadly, that is not always the case.
Within the last week or so, media has reported the case of a man who has been jailed for life for a double murder.
The Times described how Stephen Alderton shot and killed both Joshua Dunmore and his father, Gary Dunmore, days after one family court ruling (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/e07be248-718f-11ee-81be-c4b540065935?shareToken=a69a4d35cab3d7349d25473a89fdd1e2).
Alderton’s daughter had failed in her application to take the son which she had with the younger Mr Dunmore to live with her new partner in the United States.
Such relocation attempts are far from unusual.
Myself and my colleagues in the Children Law team at Hall Brown deal with many such applications each year, made by individuals wanting either to move to other locations in the UK or much further afield.
They are not always prompted by a separated parent embarking on a new relationship.
Quite often, they involve foreign nationals wishing to move back to their home countries and take their children with them when their relationships come to an end.
In some instances, it can also be due to someone having to relocate for work purposes or simply wanting a better quality of life by leaving a city for less built-up surroundings.
Where proceedings feature disputes between parents about a child moving to a new home outside England and Wales, there is an additional degree of difficulty.
That is because there may be real fears on the part of the non-resident parent that they could effectively be denied a chance to make the sort of real and regular contribution to their child’s upbringing which would be possible if that child remained in this country.
There is, however, a balance to be struck in also ensuring that the movements of a parent and child are not restricted.
These are things to which the family courts are very much alive and eager to find an adequate resolution to.
Whenever such issues occur, it is critical that the parents involved set aside whatever differences may exist between them and focus on the well-being of their children.
Decisions in cases like this can have such a lasting impact on families that is imperative when making or contesting a relocation application not to rush into it but to do it properly.
That means taking the advice of experts who can guide you through the process and providing lots of detail to support your submission.
Distance can present an obvious challenge in managing a parent’s relations with a child but family courts are keen to explore every available option to arrive at a structure which works for all.
Doing so can take time. The MoJ data shows that many types of children law cases are taking longer than ever to reach a conclusion.
Although delays and adverse rulings can be a source of frustration, families should definitely not take things into their hands because it is usually children who end up suffering far more than if there had been a reasoned discussion.
The Alderton case may be extreme, but it offers an indication of the kind of eventualities which can arise.
By acting on his desire to “override any court decision”, Stephen Alderton has effectively robbed his grandson of his father and two grandparents.