Relocating the children without consent

Deciding to move to a new location can be exciting and bring a sense of renewal, particularly after enduring these Covid years.

However, if you are separated with children, what happens to ongoing parenting arrangements in these situations? Can you move with your children without agreement from the other parent?

If you do this, it is referred to as a ‘unilateral relocation’, and it can result in applications filed and court orders sought. Both parents are considered a guardian of the children, regardless of how much contact one of the parents may have. There are certain decisions about a child that are ‘guardianship decisions.’ You must discuss these with the other parent. Topics to talk about include where a child lives, where they go to school, any medical decisions and so on.

The process

Whatever the reasons for you considering a move, the best option is to discuss this openly and honestly with the other parent. Understandably, the idea of your children moving away can be difficult for the other parent.

It may be that you can reach an agreement between the two of you. If it becomes difficult, you can get help initially with mediation forums outside of the Family Court.

If you cannot agree, you can file an ‘application to resolve a dispute between guardians’ in your local Family Court and the court will decide for you. The court will look at specific factors, including:

  • What is in the best interests of your children;
  • Your children’s relationship with you both;
  • What contact arrangements would look like for the other parent, as the court recognises the importance of your children having a relationship with both of you;
  • The ages of your children; and
  • Your children’s views on the move.

Don’t want them to move?

If your children have not yet moved, and you don’t want them to, you can file an application in the Family Court to stop the children from being moved within New Zealand. You can also ask the court for an ‘order preventing removal’ to stop the children from leaving New Zealand. These applications can be filed on a ‘without notice’ basis, where you ask the court to consider the application without first hearing from the other party.

In this application, you ask the court to make an order that states the children cannot be removed from a specified location (within New Zealand or from New Zealand). With this order in place, it limits your children being removed until further investigations could occur or agreement is reached.

What if they are moved anyway?

If the children are relocated without your consent, you can apply to the Family Court for the children to be returned to where they had been living. You would file again for a guardianship order that your children reside in a particular place, and then file for a parenting order. The court will generally favour the status quo location of your children, which is where they were living for the most recent period before they moved. In determining these applications, the court will always consider what is in the welfare and best interests of the children. This is a paramount consideration.

Children’s best interests come first

It is important that your children are happy and settled, and that their interests come first. Ideally both parents will work together to ensure arrangements for their children’s welfare are agreed harmoniously. If, however, agreements can’t be reached, there are options for court intervention. It is wise to try and avoid that as it can be very expensive and take a long time. Most of all, it can affect your children’s relationship with both parents – and no one wants that.

If you are concerned about where your children are living, or that they could be moved without your consent, please be in touch with us here straight away so we can avoid too much heartache for everyone.

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Content Copyright © NZ LAW Limited, 2022. Editor Adrienne Olsen, e.  m. 029 286 3650