I want to relocate –  what can family mediation do?

When one parent decides to relocate and there are children involved this can be a painful, unsettling and challenging time for a separated couple.  Whether the proposed move is internal (in the UK), or external (abroad), there will undoubtedly be a big impact on day to day family life and the current arrangements for the children.  This can naturally lead to difficult discussions and conflict between parents.

Many relocation cases end up in court with one or other parent looking for an order under The Children Act 1989, either a Specific Issues Order (to allow them to relocate), or a Prohibited Steps Order (asking that the move not be allowed). What we know from judges, is that they recognise relocation cases as amongst the most difficult and painful that they deal with.  The court is focused on the welfare of the child and will take a holistic and global evaluation of the proposals which the parents are making, alongside the wishes of the child or children.  This is a complicated process for judges who have to balance conflicting wishes of the parents against a raft of other considerations around for example; finance, education, housing, support networks, the impact on the mental health of both parents if the move does or does not go ahead.  It is recognised that the outcomes from court can seem varied and arbitrary for parents and often do not include detail of how the arrangements will look after relocation.  Further, coming out of a lengthy court process it can be extremely difficult to move ahead with a decision which has been made for you, focusing on a positive co-parenting relationship going forward.

Following a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM), if mediation is deemed suitable and is a process which parents are open to trying, then this can offer a positive alternative to court.  During the process the mediator will hear separately from each parent and then in joint sessions, they will have a safe space in which to begin to explore some of the painful choices and practical considerations which will arise if a relocation were to go ahead.  Mediators can link families up with therapeutic support if this would be useful for the two of them or their children during this tough time.  They will also explore the reality of how things will look if a relocation does or doesn’t go ahead and they will encourage the person who isn’t locating to think in an open way of how things might feel and any ideas which they may have but perhaps have been afraid to share, with communication at a low point.

At Wells Family Mediation we have dealt successfully with many relocation cases. Although challenging and emotional, we recognise how the work parents do in mediation can help each of them feel more included and invested in the eventual choice which is made about where parents are to live.  In certain cases, we can include children as part of the process through Direct Child Consultation.  In mediation, families are able to retain control over the decision making. Mediators help them to tailor their arrangements to suit their situation, working through the realities and practicalities of these, in a way that the court doesn’t have the resources or capacity for.  Most importantly, we see that mediation has helped support and protect the co-parenting relationship between parents, at a difficult and painful moment in their lives, which we know is crucial in offering their children the best opportunity to thrive now and in the future.