Separated parents who wish to relocate their children to live in a different country (or different region in New Zealand) may face a relocation dispute if the other parent does not agree to the move.

Moving a child without consent of the other parent could mean the Court orders the parent and child to move back to their place of origin.

If a child is being relocated internationally, the Court may then order that a child is not to be removed from New Zealand, order any flight tickets or passports are handed over to the Court, or issue a warrant for the police or a social worker to take the child into care of a suitable person while the Court determines what happens next.

If the other parent does not consent, the parent who wishes to relocate may apply to the Family Court to make a decision on whether the move can go ahead.

When making this decision, the court will consider a range of factors including:

  • The parents’ relationship with each other;
  • The child’s relationship with both of their parents;
  • How far away the child will be from the other parent;
  • The financial impact of relocating the child;
  • The child’s age and how well they would fit into their new environment;
  • Whether the child wants to move; and
  • The well-being of the parent who wants to move

The decision to move a child into a new environment is not one the Court takes lightly because of the potential social and emotional impact it has on the child.

If the parent and child have already moved overseas, then Hague Convention proceedings would be required to be filed in the Family Court, provided that the destination country is a ratified member of the Hague Convention for Child Abduction.

Has this changed due to Covid-19?

In all cases, the Court will consider as paramount the best interests and welfare of the child when making a decision.

In a recent case, an application to the Court was made by a father to stop his child from leaving New Zealand to go to his home country.

He argued that the Covid-19 situation posed risks for the child’s safety and wellbeing, while his mother wanted to take him abroad to see his sick grandfather. She argued that having a relationship with his wider family group and ties to his culture were in the child’s best interests.

While their parenting order allowed overseas visits, the father was not happy with his child travelling during the current Covid-19 situation.

The Court considered the impact on the child of him going or not going. If he went, he would have a memorable time with his mother and his grandfather as well as see his extended family, and the Covid-19 situation was significantly better than it was a few months ago.

However, the Court considered the possible negative effect of managed isolation requirements on the child, being away from his father and school for an extended period, the unlikelihood of the child being fully vaccinated by the time he departs, and whether seeing a dying relative was going to directly benefit the child. The Court also noted that the mother had the option of using Skype with her child if she leaves New Zealand alone.

On balance, the Court decided not to allow the child to travel internationally because the risks and unknown factors with allowing him to travel outweighed the benefits the child might obtain from the travel.

Due to the prevalence of Covid-19, these factors are more likely to be considered by the Court in international travel disputes.

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