When you are separated and want to relocate to a new town, there is more to be concerned about than whether to keep that old vase you never use but may need one day. Forget worrying about the moving truck and having enough packing boxes - relocation issues after separation can become a legal and emotional minefield! Here are my top tips for how to be smart and savvy when navigating that minefield.
Ask yourself: Is this the Right Time to Make this Decision?
Timing is crucial. If you are only a short time into being separated and still weathering the emotional fallout of this experience, take your time. Recognise that decisions made while the brain is under emotional stress may not be your soundest decisions. In other words, no matter how much you loved “Eat Pray Love”, now may not be the right time to make a decision as big as uprooting your life to move to another part of the country or the world.
Moving can feel very tempting. Moving may appear to solve the problems you face in the present moment, particularly financial issues. Thinking about creating a life in a new location can also be a pleasant distraction from dealing with sorting out more pressing and angst laden issues in your separation. Getting physical distance between you and your ex may feel extremely desirable. Perhaps it even feels romantic and slightly intoxicating to imagine the “fresh start” you can create.
These or other considerations may be good reasons for you to move but if you have only been separated for less than a year, check in with yourself whether now is the right time to make this life decision. Be honest with yourself about whether the decision to move is to move towards something or away from something and the implications of this. What would be the worst that could happen if you gave yourself some time to sit with the decision, checking in on your desire to move at various points along that timeline?
Make Like a Scout: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
Spend as much time as possible in the place you intend moving to. A “holiday” will always be different to actually living in a place so, if you are able, take some time to have a “living” reconnaissance trip or trips.
Even if you have lived in the area you wish to move to or have spent a lot of time there, do indepth research into:
the local housing and rental market, including speaking with agents and getting examples of a number of listings of homes that would be suitable for you.
what job opportunities there would be or whether you would be able to work remotely in your current position.
the experiences of others who have made a similar move to the area. Talk to the "locals" about what you can realistically expect.
what reliable research there is about the cost of living and quality of life in the area.
the schools and opportunities for children in the area. Visit them and collect information.
the availability of activities that you and your children enjoy.
Use your research to create a well rounded picture of what life will be like – the neighbourhood you would likely live in, the park the kids will play at, the school they will attend. You may even want to do this visually by gathering photos of what living in your desired new location will look like - a vision board of sorts. This preparation all helps you make an informed decision and reduces the potential for nasty surprises after. Your research will also help your lawyer a lot. Wait, what? Your lawyer?
Get Advice Early
I have had numerous people call me over the years, in a panic, because they were just about to move cities when their ex urgently obtained a court order that stopped the children from moving. In some cases, the client had already sold or given up the tenancy on their home and had a new job they were expected to be at in a week!
In New Zealand, the law says that deciding where a child lives (and whether they can relocate) is a decision for both guardians to agree upon. If, as parents, you cannot agree, the Court may be asked to decide whether the child may move to live in the proposed new location.
If you simply move without the other parent's consent, you could find yourself on the receiving end of Court orders requiring the children to return to where you moved from.
The critical message is to take legal advice as soon as you start contemplating a move and well before you start rolling out the bubble wrap. This will ensure you know what you are facing and you can construct a plan with your lawyer for how to best navigate any legal issues.
Prepare for Discussions
If you are co-parenting then you will potentially have to share some very difficult discussions with your ex about wanting to relocate.
You can prepare for those discussions by:
doing your research so you have a clear proposal and picture of what life will look like for your children that you can provide to your ex for considering.
considering the children’s interests – what are the benefits to them (not you) of a move? What are the disadvantages to the children of moving (including any reduction in time spent with their other parent)? How can you minimise those disadvantages?
generating a range of options for how the children may still enjoy regular time with their other parent, bearing in mind the regularity with which they currently spend time together. How can you facilitate this?
deciding whether it would help to have a neutral person help the discussions between you?
Thinking about how you would feel about the same proposal if it were put to you and the shoe was on the other foot. What concerns or fears would you have? What questions would you have? What emotions would you feel?
Start Discussions Early
To avoid having your moving plans upset as the removal truck is rolling in your driveway, your discussions with your children’s other parent should start as soon as possible.
I have my clients contemplate how the topic may be introduced as gently as possible, taking into account how they usually communicate about difficult issues. Set an expectation for yourself that this will not likely be a ‘one-discussion-and-boom!-we-are-done’ scenario and plan for when would be the best time and place to bring it up away from the children. There is benefit in ensuring you each have time and space to consider things and then come back to the discussion, rather than you both feeling you are in a pressure cooker situation to come to an arrangement.
Some of my clients like to signal their thoughts to the other parent when they first start considering a move. This may be as simple as saying, “Hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up that lately I have been wondering about opportunities for the children and I elsewhere. I don’t have a concrete plan or anything underway yet. I just wanted to signal this is something I have been thinking about and would like to discuss with you if the idea develops further”. Other clients have decided it would be more beneficial to have a more detailed proposal (cue the research you’ve done!) to ask the other parent to consider.
However you first approach the discussion, the key is to do this with ample time available for ongoing discussions and negotiations so, if you can’t agree, you have time to complete any more formal dispute resolution processes you may need to use.
Get Right With Not Moving
Family lawyers will all agree that relocation issues are often the hardest to find a win-win solution for. There is usually a clear winner and a clear loser and little room for solutions in the middle. Approaching the relocation issue as a "done deal" could lead to a world of grief for you later. You may not get to move. This can be a very bitter pill to swallow, particularly if you are feeling that your children's other parent has stopped you pursuing your best life!
If you need the agreement of your co-parent to your children moving, I urge you to keep viewing relocation as "an option" throughout your discussions. Having other options, including positive options for how life could look if you don't move, will see you avoid the perils of negotiating from a place of desparation and have you recovering and moving forward quickly even if not to the place you had hoped.
Thinking about relocating and want to set yourself up well for the negotiations that will be needed? If you'd like to have us assist you, then book a free consultation now. Names and any identifying information have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals. The information in this blog is current at 1 October 2022. The information in this blog is general, educative information only. As such, it should not be relied on in place of getting your own legal advice.