International Relocation of children – the importance of mirror orders

One of the most emotionally fraught situations for separated parents arises if one parent wants to move abroad with the children, perhaps due to a divorce, to pursue a career opportunity, new relationship or to return to a country of birth or upbringing. It is necessary for the parent wishing to move away from the country where the child has been living to apply to the Court for permission to move with the children outside the jurisdiction.

The Court needs to consider every such application for international relocation very carefully, and it needs to take into account a number of factors. One of the most important considerations is how the child’s relationship with the parent left behind will be maintained. A parent may consent to their child moving abroad on the condition that certain arrangements in terms of residence/ custody and contact/ visitation, are put in place and a Court Order made approving those arrangements. A parent wishing to remove their child is likely to agree to the terms sought in order to secure the necessary permission for the move, but what happens if the agreement for contact or visitation breaks down after the move has taken place?

Many countries in Europe and elsewhere have signed up to agreements which require them to enforce orders made in other countries, but for those which have not signed up to the agreement, there may be no automatic recognition or enforcement of the original order. The court therefore needs to consider various safeguards at the outset to prevent the contact or visitation arrangements breaking down. One such safeguard is a ‘mirror order’ which is an order in the country the child is moving to, which reflects the Order made in the country the child has just left. A mirror order lets the court in another country know that a court order has been made in relation to the relocation and the conditions on which the consent was given. However, mirror orders are not without their difficulties, including differences between foreign laws in relation to recognition and enforcement, so careful and considered advice is needed from a specialist lawyer, both in the country being left and the country to which the party is relocating to avoid the pitfalls.

The position after Brexit and whether the UK’s departure from the EU will result in any changes to the law in this area is not clear at present, so advice will need to be sought to ensure the maximum protection is put in place to cover a variety of different scenarios. The legal uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU makes mirror orders even more important than ever.

Given the specialist nature of this area of law it is essential that anyone contemplating an international relocation with their children, or anyone facing such a move, seeks advice from an international family law specialist at an early stage in the process.

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