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International Relocation of Children: American and English Approaches

                       By Jeremy D. Morley and James H. Maguire                    

International Family Law, June 2006

Courts in the USA and England have long struggled with international relocation applications. This article reviews the approaches in both jurisdictions.

THE US APPROACH



The US approach to international relocation cases can be appropriately described as both confused and confusing. Since child custody disputes are a matter of state jurisdiction, there are over 50 different jurisdictions in the USA that handle child relocation cases.

Most relocation cases involve moves from one state to another or even from one place in a state to another place in the same state. The principles that govern intrastate or interstate relocations also govern international relocation cases.

LAW OF RELOCATION


The current state of US relocation jurisprudence reflects three distinct and contradictory trends. The first trend was the traditional view that relocation was ‘a bad thing’ that should be discouraged. Many states enacted statutes that created a rebuttable presumption that a change of a child’s principal residence is not in the best interests of the child. In other states, the presumption against relocation was a matter of common law. The presumption survives and is the law in several states including Alabama (Ala Code 1975 Sec 30-3-169), Missouri (Mo Stat Ann Sec 452 377), Nebraska (Tremain v Tremain 264 Neb 328, 646 NW2d 661 (2002)) and Virginia (Parish v Spaulding 26 Va App 566, 496 SE2d 91 (1998)). Some states frame the rule as one that requires a custodial parent who wishes to relocate to establish that the move will substantially improve the custodial parent’s and the child’s quality of life. Gruber v Gruber 400 Pa Super 174, 583 A2d 434 (1990). In these states, the burden of proof is heavy, which severely limits the chances of securing judicial permission to relocate.

The second trend, which flourished a decade or so ago, was to favour relocation unless it were shown in a specific case as being likely to hurt the child. The change was reflected in presumptions and burdens of proof, in both statutory law and case‑law, many of which continue in full force and effect today in many states. Such states favouring relocation include Tennessee (the parent who spends more time with the child may relocate unless it is established that the relocation has no reasonable purpose or would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child which outweighs the threat of harm to the child of a change of custody; Tenn Code Ann § 36-6-108(d)(1)–(3)); Wisconsin (the burden is on the non‑custodial parent to establish that a proposed move is unreasonable and not be in the best interests of the child; Wis Stat Ann 767 327; Hughes v Hughes 223 Wis2d 111, 588 NW2d 346 (CtApp 1998)); and Washington State (there is a ‘rebuttable presumption that the intended relocation of the child will be permitted’; Rev Code Wash Sec 26 09 520; see Ramirez v Holland (In re RFR) 122 Wn App 324, 93 P 3d 951 (Ct App 2004)).

A variation on the straight presumption favouring relocation is a two-step approach, as utilised in Connecticut and New Jersey, whereby the custodial parent must reach a certain threshold by demonstrating a good faith motive for the move and that the move will not harm the child and then the burden swings to the other parent to show harm to the child that would result from the move (Ireland v Ireland 717 A 2d 676 (Conn 1998; Baures v Lewis 770 A 2d 214 (NJ 2001)).

The third trend, which is the current favourite, has been to abandon most of the presumptions and to require that each case be analysed individually and at great length to determine what is in the best interest of the child before an individual decision can be reached. This is the approach that was adopted by New York’s Court of Appeals in the landmark case of Tropea v Tropea 665 NE 2d 145 (NY 1996) and it has gradually spread to other states, such as Georgia (Bodne v Bodne 277 Ga 445, 588 SE 2d 728 (2003)), Arkansas (Blivin v Weber) 354 Ark 483, 126 SW3d 351 (2003), Florida (Fla Stat Ann Sec 61 13(2)(d)(3)) and then to California.

California over the past few years has been the focus of the relocation debate. Although court decisions about the burden of proof are hardly the conventional fodder of heated political dispute, California has witnessed fiery debates in its legislature, as well as on radio talk shows and internet blogs, about the burden of proof in children’s relocation cases. The argument has been so emotional and the pressure on the judiciary so intense that, in 2003, the California legislature took the astonishing step of legislating its approval of a specific court decision, In re Marriage of Burgess (1996) 13 Cal 4th 25, which had held that a custodial parent had a presumptive right to relocate children and had shifted to the non-custodial parent the burden of proving that his active role was ‘essential’ to his children’s well‑being. Thus, Family Code, Sec 7501(b) provides that ‘It is the intent of the Legislature to affirm the decision in In re Marriage of Burgess 13 Cal 4th 25 (1996) and to declare that ruling to be the public policy and law of this state’.

In the following legislative session, those opposed to ‘move-aways’ engaged in a furious effort to have California legislation enacting the reversal of Burgess. Just as in other areas in which politicians employ clever labels to influence public opinion, Americans who want to make it difficult for custodial parents to take their children to live in distant locations have taken to referring to such parents as ‘move-aways’. At that point, the California Supreme Court issued another landmark ruling in the case of In re Marriage of La Musga 88 P3d 81, 12 Cal Rptr 3d 356, 32 Cal 4th 1072 (Ca 2004). That decision significantly altered the Burgess formula by reducing the extent of the burden of proof on non-custodial parents who oppose relocation and by authorising a case-by-case custodial analysis in each and every relocation case. Although the La Musga decision sparked a furious, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to overturn it in the legislature, the ruling has in fact served to defuse the passions, since it is difficult to express outrage at a rule that states, in substance, that there are no rules and that every case must be treated as completely unique.

INTERNATIONAL CASES


A review of the international relocation cases in the USA reveals no clear trend, except that state courts generally apply to international cases the same principles that they or the state legislatures have established in domestic cases, although there are relatively slight modifications. Indeed, since the distance between many parts of the USA is much greater than that between US states and Canada, Central America or the Caribbean, courts have sometimes applied far more lenient standards to proposed relocation to neighbouring countries than to distant places in the USA. Thus, in Arnold v Arnold 847 A2d 674 (Pa Super 2004) a Pennsylvania court held that:

While we acknowledge that relocation to certain foreign countries may pose additional hurdles that a court may be forced to consider when presented with a relocation issue … we do not find relocation to Canada to be one of those countries.

A Vermont court refused to engraft onto the Vermont relocation statute additional factors to be considered in the event of a proposed relocation to another country, rejecting the father’s contention that international relocations raise unique issues (Osmanagic v Osmanagic 872 A2d 897, 16 VtLW 122 (Vt 2005)). Moreover, courts have sometimes expressed favour for foreign relocation, at least for a limited period of time, as something of substantial inherent value (Carncross v O’Connell, 302 AD2d 931, 753 NYS2d 916 (4th Dept 2003)).

In recent cases, relocation requests have been granted for moves from Texas to Germany (Lenz v Lenz 79 SW3d 10 (Tex Sup Ct 2002)), Oregon to The Netherlands (Hamilton-Waller v Waller Ore App Lexis 1451 (OrApp 11/09/2005)), Connecticut to Japan (Bottinelli v Bottinelli 2003 Conn Super Lexis 3525 (Super Ct Ct 2003), Connecticut to Israel (Goldfarb v Goldfarb 2004 Pa Super 412 (Pa Super 2004), California to Spain (In re Marriage of Lasich 99 Cal App 4th 702, 121 Cal Rptr 2d 356(Cal Ct App 2002) and Florida to Jersey in the Channel Islands (Muniz v Muniz 789 So2d 370 (Fla App 2001).

Perhaps surprisingly, in recent years several requests for relocation from the USA to England have been denied, but an analysis of the cases reveals that each had special circumstances which legitimately made the proposed moves inappropriate. Thus, in a Rhode Island case, the mother wanted to marry and live with a man in England. She agreed to an amended order of joint custody that gave physical custody of the child to the father in Rhode Island, with extensive visitation for her. Later, she applied for physical custody for herself in England. The court found that the mother had previously put her romantic interest ahead of the child’s and since there had been no subsequent change of circumstances, denied her application (D’Onofrio v D’Onofrio 738 A2d 1081 (RI 1999)).

In a Pennsylvania case, an English couple had moved to the USA with their two young children so that the husband could accept a job offer. They had had a third child while in the USA. Their original plan had been to return to England after a few years. They had all obtained ‘green cards’ after residing for several years in the USA. The wife petitioned to relocate to England with the children so they could be with her family. The husband objected because his career situation was significantly better in the USA and any job in England would leave him with less time with the children. The oldest child, age 10, testified that she wanted to stay in the USA. The Pennsylvania court denied the mother’s application, holding that she had not met her burden of proving that relocation was in the best interests of the children (Spring v Spring, Phila Ct Com Pl Lexis 106 (Pa 2002) aff’d 830 A2d 1061, 2003 Pa Super Lexis 3139 (Pa Super 2003)).

Some courts have expressed concern about a party’s immigration status and the need to provide for a possible Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 (the Hague Convention) application in a foreign country should a parent abduct the child. In Ish-Shalom v Wittmann 19 AD3d 493, 797 NYS2d 111 (2d Dept 2005), a New York appeal court authorised a mother’s relocation to Florida, but expressed its concern that the mother – a German national who had strong continuing ties to Germany, was in the USA on a visitor’s visa and had previously abducted the child to Florida ‑might subsequently abduct the child to Germany. New York courts refuse to award joint custody unless the parties agree, but on this occasion the court replaced a sole custody order with an order of joint legal and sole physical custody, for the express purpose of giving ‘rights of custody’ to the father for use in future Hague Convention proceedings.

In the California case of In re Marriage of Condon (1998) 62 CalApp 4th 533, the court devoted great effort to analysing the international component. The court held that the proponent in international relocation cases must make adequate provision for continuing contact between the child and the left‑behind parent and for guaranteed enforceability of the California custody order in the foreign nation.

In Condon and subsequent cases, the California courts have fashioned international relocation orders that impose some stringent conditions. In one case, the court conditioned relocation to Israel on the relocating parent’s fulfilment of six separate and distinct conditions (Abargil v Abargil 106 Cal App 4th 1294, 131 Cal Rptr 2d 429 (Cal Ct App 2003)). The parent was required to:

  1. post a substantial financial bond in a specific amount sufficient to ensure her compliance with the court’s judgment and orders;
  2. consent to California’s continuing jurisdiction over the child;
  3. agree to a prohibition against attempting to modify the judgment except upon application to a California state court;
  4. agree that any attempt by such parent to modify the judgment by application to any non-California court could be deemed a violation of the court’s judgment and grounds for forfeiture of the bond and other appropriate sanctions;
  5. register the trial court’s judgment with the proper Israeli authorities; and
  6. refrain from taking the child to Israel until the judgment was registered and until the trial court made a further determination that she had fully complied with the court’s judgment.

Californian courts have also imposed (or appeal courts have recommended) additional terms, such as:

  1. requiring the relocating parent to annually register the custody order under the Hague Convention;
  2. requiring the relocating parent to waive extradition if an arrest warrant is issued for parental kidnapping under the federal international child kidnapping statute (18 US Code Sec 1204);
  3. providing that support payments will be forfeited in the event of non-compliance; and
  4. requiring the moving parent to deposit support payments in a trust fund to finance travel for visitation.

Condon above; In re Marriage of Sellahewa, (unreported) (No D040143 (Cal Ct App Dist4 09/29/2003); In re Marriage of Lasich, above.

In addition, the courts have provided for many methods of shaping custody orders so as to alleviate the disruption of contact between the relocating child and the left-behind parent. Such provisions include:

  1. providing longer periods of visitation during school breaks as compensation for the loss of more frequent visitation;
  2. requiring the relocating parent to arrange for an adult to accompany the child during travel; and
  3. requiring the relocating parent to arrange for the use of technological services such as the internet and videoconferencing to enhance contact with the left-behind parent.

Abargil, above; Lasich, above; Condon, above.

THE ENGLISH APPROACH



By contrast, the English approach could be said to usually favour the mother who wishes to relocate to a foreign jurisdiction, and sometimes that permission to remove is granted too easily, but is that so?

THE LAW


Relocation applications have been brought either under s 13, where there is a residence order, or under s 8 of the Children Act 1989. Such applications are, therefore, subject to the welfare paramountcy principle in s 1(1) and, where the application is under s 8, the welfare checklist in s 1(3). Section 13(1)(b) requires a parent wishing to remove a child permanently from the jurisdiction to obtain leave of the court in order to do so. Prior to this, the welfare of the minor as a paramount consideration was contained in s 1 of the Guardian of Minors Act 1971. The implementation of the Children Act 1989 in 1991 gave most parents the concept of parental responsibility and diminished the impact of a former custody order and the perceived control of the custodial parent over the decision making with regard to the children of the family.

It useful to examine the relevant case-law over the last 30 years. Poel v Poel [1970] 1 WLR 1469 involved a proposed removal to New Zealand where the mother’s new husband had good job prospects. The Court of Appeal recognised that the welfare of the child should be the primary consideration. It was concluded that this was one of those cases where the court should not interfere with the way of life selected by the parent who has custody. This approach can best be summed up using the words of Sachs LJ:

‘When a marriage breaks up, a situation normally arises when the child of that marriage, instead of being in the joint custody of both parents, must of necessity, become one who is in the custody of a single parent. Once that position has arisen and the custody is working well, the court should not lightly interfere with such a reasonable way of life as is selected by that parent to whom custody has been rightly given. Any such interference may, as my Lord [Winn LJ] has pointed out, produce considerable strains which would not only be unfair to the parent whose way of life is interfered with but also to any new marriage of that parent. In that way it might well in due course reflect on the welfare of the child. The way in which the parent who properly has custody of the child may choose in a reasonable manner to order his or her way of life is one of those things which the parent who has not been given custody may well have to bear, even though one has every sympathy with the latter on some of the results.’

Ormrod LJ adopted a similar approach in A v A (Child: Removal from Jurisdiction)(1980) 1 FLR 380, which involved a proposed relocation to Hong Kong.

‘The test which is often put on the basis of whether it is reasonable for the mother to return to her own country with the child, I myself doubt whether it provides a satisfactory answer to this question. The fundamental question is what is in the best interests of the child; and once it has been decided with so young a child as this that there is really no option so far as care and control are concerned, then one has to look realistically at the mother’s position and ask oneself the question: where is she going to have the best chance of bringing up this child reasonably well? To that question the only possible answer in this case is Hong Kong.’

This approach was followed in the Court of Appeal in the case of Moodey v Field (unreported) 13 February 1981, where it was asked whether or not the proposed move was reasonable and if the answer is ‘yes’, then permission should only be refused if it is clearly shown beyond doubt that the interests of the child and the interests of the custodial parent are incompatible.

That approach was question by Balcombe J at first instance in Chamberlain v De La Mare (1983) 4 FLR 434. The welfare of the child was held to be the paramount consideration and that each factor should be weighed against another and no factor taking priority against the mother. That case involved an application by a mother with custody of two children to take them to New York with her new husband for his job requirements. His decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal. Tyler v Tyler [1989] 2 FLR 158 involved an application to remove to Australia which was refused, recognising, as it did, that it is bound to be hard for one unfortunate parent who has to be disappointed. The Court of Appeal pointed out that cases of this nature are always hard, cause distress, each one depends on its own facts and that the court should think long and hard before refusing permission to take the children.

It is Thorpe LJ, both at first instance and presently, who has sought to apply such authority, for example in MH v GP (Child: Emigration) [1995] 2 FLR 106, Re H (Application to Remove from Jurisdiction) [1998] 1 FLR 848 and Re C (Leave to Remove from Jurisdiction) [2000] 2 FLR 457. In MH v GP, Thorpe J (as he then was) had regard to the presumption he refers to in the custodial parent, but decided on the facts of the case that it did not identify what would best promote the welfare of the child and, therefore, refused leave to the mother. This is an example of a case where although the presumption or general prima facie position could be said to apply, it was displaced. In Re H, a father’s appeal was dismissed against a decision allowing the mother to relocate to Alabama. The court commented that these difficult cases require very profound investigation and judgment. Thorpe LJ felt that not a lot is to be gained from past decisions and, that in his judgment, these cases had not evolved or developed since Poel.

This led to two differing approaches, the first as per Chamberlain, created a presumption in favour of the reasonable application of the custodial parent, and at the same time, as per Re C (Thorpe LJ dissenting), a balance needed to be struck to determine whether or not the resulting risk of harm to the child was such as to outweigh the presumption that reasonable proposals from the custodial parent should receive the endorsement of the court (presumption in both contexts being used in a non‑legal sense).

It was then in the leading case of Payne v Payne [2001] EWCA Civ 166, [2001] 1 FLR 1052 that Thorpe LJ regretted the use of the word ‘presumption’. He expressed a view that concepts of presumptions and burden of proof have no place in the Children Act 1989 proceedings where the judge exercises a function that is partly inquisitorial.

Thorpe LJ then went on to say:

‘In summary a review of the decisions of this court over the course of the last thirty years demonstrates that relocation cases have been consistently decided upon the application of the following propositions:

(a)   the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration; and
(b) refusing the primary carer’s reasonable proposals…is likely to impact dramatically on the welfare of her dependent children. Therefore her application to relocate will be granted unless the court concludes that it is incompatible with the welfare of the children.’

It has often been said that a happy and contented mother (proposing to relocate) makes for a happy and contented child. Logically, and as a matter of experience, a child cannot draw emotional and psychological security and stability from the dependency unless the primary carer herself is emotionally and psychologically stable and secure. The parent cannot give what she herself lacks (as per Payne). Thorpe LJ therefore concluded in Payne:

‘Thus in most relocation cases the most crucial assessment and finding for the judge is likely to be the effect of the refusal of the application on the mother’s future psychological and emotional stability.’

In relocation cases there is an acute dissension between parents and often involve cross applications by the mother and the father. No order is simply not an option. Re X and Y (Leave to Remove from Jurisdiction) [2001] 2 FLR 118 should not be followed. The court has to impose one order or the other in the application of the paramount principle of welfare.

THE IMPACT OF HUMAN RIGHTS


Following the commencement of the Human Rights Act 1998 on 2 October 2000, it was not long before a father, opposing an application to relocate, raised an argument that such a relocation constituted a breach of his right to family life under Art 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (the European Convention) (as anticipated in Re A (Permission to Remove Child from Jurisdiction: Human Rights) [2000] 2 FLR 225). It is thought that the European Convention does not necessitate a revision of the approach to relocation cases. However, the idea that the effect of the European Convention has no place in this area is no longer sustainable in light of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Glaser v United Kingdom (Case No 32346/96) [2001] 1 FLR 153 and the decision of the Court of Appeal in Douglas, Zeta Jones and Northern & Shell plc v Hello plc [2005] EWCA Civ 595, [2006] QB 125.

In a united family, the right to family life is a shared right. Once that family disintegrates, the separating members’ separate rights can only be to a fragmented family life (as per Payne). With the asserted Art 8 rights of the father, there are also the Art 8 rights of the primary carer, the mother. It was envisaged in Payne that an appeal may well arise in which a disappointed applicant will contend that s 13(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989 imposes a disproportionate restriction on a parent’s right to determine her place of habitual residence.

The acknowledgement of child welfare as paramount must be common to most if not all judicial systems within the Council of Europe. It is also enshrined in Art (1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. In Johansen v Norway (1996) 23 EHRR 33, the court held that ‘“particular weight should be attached to the best interests of the child … which may override those of the parent”’. In L v Finland (Applications No 25651/94) [2000] ECHR 176, the court emphasised that the consideration of what is in the best interests of the child is of crucial importance.

PAYNE GUIDANCE


To guard against an assumption that the mother’s proposals are necessarily compatible with the child’s welfare, Thorpe LJ went on to suggest the following discipline as a prelude to conclusion:

(a)  Pose the question: is the mother’s application genuine in the sense that it is not motivated by some selfish desire to exclude the father from the child’s life. Then ask is the mother’s application realistic, by which I mean founded on practical proposals both well researched and investigated? If the application fails either of these tests refusal will inevitably follow.
(b)  If however the application passes these tests then there must be a careful appraisal of the father’s opposition: is it motivated by genuine concern for the future of the child’s welfare or is it driven by some ulterior motive? What would be the extent of the detriment to him and his future relationship with the child were the application granted? To that extent would that be offset by extension of the child’s relationships with the maternal family and homeland?
(c)  What would be the impact on the mother, either as the single parent or as a new wife, or of her realistic proposal?
(d)  The outcome of the second and third appraisals must then be brought into an overriding review of the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration, directed by the statutory checklist insofar as appropriate.’

Dame Butler-Sloss P in Payne suggested the following considerations which should be in the forefront of the mind of a judge hearing one of these cases; and that all relevant factors need to be considered and weighed in the balance:

  1. The welfare of the child is always paramount.
  2. There is no presumption created by s 13(1)(b) in favour of the applicant parent.
  3. The reasonable proposals of the parent with a residence order wishing to live abroad carry great weight.
  4. Consequently, the proposals have to be scrutinised with care and the court needs to be satisfied that there is a genuine motivation for the move and not the intention to bring contact between the child and the other parent to an end.
  5. The effect upon the applicant parent and the new family of the child of a refusal of leave is very important.
  6. The effect upon the child of the denial of the contact with the other parent and in some cases his family is very important.
  7. The opportunity for continuing contact between the child and the parent left behind may be very significant.’

For recent cases, Payne is still the leading authority. In Re B (Leave to Remove: Impact of Refusal) [2004] EWCA Civ 956, [2005] 2 FLR 239, the concept of an ever‑shrinking globe and ‘lifestyle choice’ mean that courts can expect to hear many more of these cases. In R v R (Leave to Remove) [2004] EWHC 2572 (Fam), [2005] 1 FLR 687, the mother had spent parts of her life in France and the USA. Her application to permanently remove the children to France was dismissed. By balancing all the relevant factors, with the welfare of the children as the paramount consideration, it was not appropriate to approve their permanent removal from the jurisdiction. Interestingly, in Re Y (Leave to Remove from Jurisdiction) [2004] 2 FLR 330, the mother wanted to return to the USA, but the case involved an informal shared care arrangement for the child between the parties. Hedley J dismissed the mother’s application on the basis that shared care took the case outside the scope of Payne. The Court of Appeal has not yet considered a case of a shared care arrangement.

INTERNATIONAL CONTACT


The world is becoming a smaller place and international travel is comparatively cheaper. Equally, communication is cheaper and the options more varied, particularly with the advent of the internet and webcam/messenger capabilities. All this tends to work against the secondary carer who often bases an objection to relocation on the fact that contact will be significantly diminished. The English courts can look at the possibility of what contact shall be available in that foreign jurisdiction to, for example, the father if and when relocation takes place and potentially impose conditions prior to removal. ‘Mirror orders’ can be considered subject to the foreign country having power to make such orders if the child is not yet habitually resident there (and conversely it is interesting to note how Singer J dealt with such a scenario in Re P (A Child: Mirror Orders) [2000] 1 FLR 435). Where it is likely that a mother, in such a case, will be given permission to relocate, the potentially left‑behind father should not forget what direct and indirect contact should be sought and the relevant preconditions to be put in place prior to removal. This should include the foreign jurisdiction recognising and enforcing the provisions of the agreement/order.

In Re G (Removal from Jurisdiction) [2005] EWCA Civ 170, [2005] 2 FLR 166, which involved an application to relocate to Argentina, Thorpe LJ emphasised the importance of future contact:

There needs to be a very clear definition of the contact order, certainly in the first 12 months and perhaps the first 24 months after removal. That order needs to be very clearly written in this jurisdiction and there needs to be an investigation of ways and means of achieving a mirror order in Buenos Aires.

The impact of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 (2003) (revised Brussels II) as from 1 March 2005 shall go some way to assist left‑behind fathers in enforcing contact orders pursuant to Art 41 (or Art 21). However, careful consideration still needs to be taken where the foreign jurisdiction is not an EU Member State (including Denmark) and also whether or not that country is or is not a member of the Hague Convention. It should not be forgotten that when a child leaves the jurisdiction he or she shall inevitably lose his or her place of habitual residence and will ultimately acquire, if only by virtue of the passage of time, a new habitual residence in the other jurisdiction. It is contended for a father that safety and security measures need to be built into any final order providing for relocation and contact, so that the arrangements can work as far as they can, in the interests of the child.

CONCLUSION


The US and English approaches to relocation applications each follow the principle that priority should be given to the best interests of children. The approaches vary in how they are implemented. Courts and legislatures across the USA are struggling to establish standards:

‘that are flexible enough to allow trial courts to weigh the complex variables that come into play in relocation cases, and yet not so flexible that they fail to provide guidance to the trial courts and predictability to the litigants and lawyers involved.’ (Hawkes v Spence 878 A2d 273 (Vt 2005).

The US courts have shifted away from more rigid formulations that provided some guidance to practitioners and their clients in favour of elastic concepts that require courts to evaluate every case on its own merits.

By contrast, over the last 30 years, the English courts have generally provided more useful and helpful guidance to practitioners. This has allowed practitioners to give relatively clear and confident advice to parents about possible outcomes. However, this may change as shared care becomes more prevalent. In the USA, concerns about joint custody have contributed to the reduction of clear relocation guidelines.

While the US trend enhances the likelihood that a specific case will yield a fair result but at the expense of predictability and economy, the English approach serves to create greater predictability of result and tends to encourage parents to apply for relocation orders instead of taking flight with their children. In the international arena, significant uncertainty and substantial expense fuel international child abduction. Clear guidance limits the volume of contested litigation and reduces the number of international child abduction cases.

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