International Relocation of Children

In a case recently decided on 11 May 2017, the mother of two children aged 12 and 11 years respectively, made an application to the Family Court seeking an Order that she and the children be allowed to relocate overseas with the mother’s new partner who had been posted to that overseas country for about four years.

The father of the two children opposed the relocation order and sought an order that the children remain in Canberra with him.

It was common ground that there were significant communication problems between the parents.

The most important aspect to this particular case centred around the likely extent of harm to the relationship between the father and the children if the proposed relocation took place.  As part of his evidence, the father relied upon eight audio visual recordings made by him of the children, either interacting with him about their mother or the children interacting with their mother on the telephone.  On each occasion, the children were aware that they were being recorded and the Court found that each audio visual recording constituted an example of the father unreasonably involving the children in the conflict between him and the mother and in the litigation process.  The father recorded the children while they were arguing with their mother on the telephone under circumstances where he was aware that the children had told their mother that she was not on speaker phone and it appeared that the father was encouraging the children to make criticisms of the mother as he questioned them about their mother and about their views about what should be happening with them. 

It was found that the father demonstrated no insight regarding the involvement of the children in the proceedings and the harm that it could do to them in their relationship with him or in their relationship with their mother and reflected badly upon the father’s capacity to emotionally care for the children and for his ability to protect the children from exposure to conflict between he and the mother.  The videos were also found to be demonstrative of difficulties posed by the mother to the parenting relationship between the father and the children.

Despite this extremely poor behaviour on the part of the husband, in the end, the most significant contest in this particular case was the benefit of a meaningful relationship between the children and the father on the one hand and the benefit of the mother and children moving overseas.  The resolution of the matter was focussed on the matter of what is in the children’s best interests.  An assessment of the benefits of an international move for the children was found that it could not be based on the mother promoting a positive and supportive relationship between the children and the father.  There was found to be a significant risk that such a significant change in circumstances would further degrade the relationship between the children and the father and the mother’s application for relocation with the children was ultimately dismissed. 

Ben Farmer

26 June 2017