International Leave to Remove (relocating with a child as a single parent)

When I went through the international leave to remove process from the UK to return home to Australia, it would have been helpful to have someone else’s first hand experience to reference (or perhaps I just wasn’t good at finding one), sort of a step by step walk through of what it was going to be like. 

Every case is of course different, and obviously what I’m going to write here will only be my experience to. If you do have questions, or just want someone to hear your out through your journey, just message me. 

Step 1: Mediation and application

An application needs to be completed (C1 form) and lodged, but it can only be done after mediation has been attempted between the parents. There are exemptions to this, for example, I lodged my application prior to mediation as my ex-husband made it clear that under no circumstances would he be giving me permission to go home with my daughter.

Once the application is lodged, CAFCASS contacts both parents on behalf of the court to ask questions about the well being of the child. They provide a brief note to the court of their findings.

Step 2: Initial Court Hearing

Once the application is lodged, an initial court hearing is scheduled. The purpose is to try and see if an agreement can be reached between the parents without having to go through the courts, and usually it can’t, so the dates for the subsequent document submissions are set out. As my bub was very young (only 6 months), the court ruled that a further CAFCASS report was not required as usually they are only helpful when the children are older and their views are captured in the interviews conducted by CAFCASS.

  • My statement (the applicant), was required 5 weeks after the initial hearing.
  • The respondent’s statement was required approximately 5 weeks after mine.
  • My response to the respondent’s statement was required approximately 3 weeks after that.

Step 3: Statement submissions

The statements are documents from both parents outlining relevant information to support each parties case. There are several guiding questions which the courts considers to determine the outcome of the case (a quick search on the web will give you various lawyers who can give you a good summary on those). These documents can be quite lengthy, and will usually incorporate evidence supporting the information presented in the statements such as emails, sms messages etc.

Step 4: Final Court Hearing

Note: For those with a CAFCASS report, there is another hearing prior to the final hearing, but as I didn’t have a CAFCASS, I can’t provide any information on this.

I was allocated a 2 day hearing, during which time both parents and any other witnesses requested are questioned and cross-examined by both party’s barristers.Other witnesses would have had to supply some written statement as part of either the applicant or the respondents statement submission (step 3).

It is usually the applicant first in the witness box. The judge and all legal parties are usually taking notes during the entire process.

Any orders (which are formal court requests by either party) may also be reviewed as to whether they need to addressed. For example, my ex-husband was trying to get my entire medical history from both Australia and England to prove that I was mentally unfit to care for our child, and it would be dangerous to the child’s well being. His request was rejected, as he was unable/unwilling to articulate why he wanted them, and the judge ruled that he was out for a “fishing expedition”.

After questions and cross-examinations, closing summaries are then performed by both party’s barristers. In my case, we ran short out of time, so closing summaries were submitted in writing to the judge.

Step 5: Judgement

Judgement is either given at the end of the last day of final hearing, or a later date. In my case, I had to wait 2 weeks to know the outcome.

We returned to court, and I had expected that the judgement would take less than an hour, however it took close to 2.5 hours. The judgement (read by the judge) summarizes key and relevant points for record. In our case, she also shared her opinions of certain aspects on both party’s evidence as part of her delivery. She then read and referenced the relevant laws which she used to come to her decision. Finally, she states her decision. In my case, I was granted permission to return home. 🙂

A court order is then required. It sets out the “conditions” going forward to ensure both parties “keep their word” on the arrangements of contact in the future. It also sets out the date which I can leave the country with my daughter. In my case, I wasn’t allowed to leave for another two months, which for me was a surprise as I was on unpaid maternity leave, my ex-husband had refused to pay any spousal maintenance and I was unable to receive any benefits due to my visa status, which in effect meant I had to continue paying for living expenses for an additional two months :(.

In my case, my ex-husband also requested for a shared residence order at the conclusion of the judgement delivery.

Final words ….

Firstly, I am thankful to my barrister and my solicitor. They did an incredible job, not just in representing my case, but the “life” perspective they provided. They appropriately prepared me for the worst outcome and also provoked reflection about my actions.

This case took over 10 months to complete, 12 months until I was able to return home. I was actually considered lucky, as normally it takes around 12 months just to get a final court date. When the judgement was finally read out (after the 2.5 hr sh-peal before hand), I was absolutely exhausted and numb. Before going to that judgement hearing, I had been preparing myself for the worst outcome, my application to return home with my daughter would be declined, I would have no home, no financial support, no access to public funds or services, and no real support network and family. I was relieved when I heard the judgement but I wasn’t “ecstatic”. I knew this wasn’t ever a “win” case. However, it was the best outcome, given the circumstance and situation. My ex-husband and his family’s behavior during my pregnancy and since our separation was concerning, and the reality of being a single mother for the next 18-20 years of that would have been beyond damaging to my bub and me. It took several days for the full sense of the judgement to dawn on me, for me to finally “relax” and take comfort that this extremely, painful, and exhausting chapter in my life was nearly over.

For anyone going through an international relocation custody case, and would like to contact me, please do. It is often a lonely, exhausting, and extremely trying journey. Usually the reasons for wanting to relocate is because one party had taken the decision to give up their life, their home, their support network to be with their partner, and it hasn’t worked out, which in itself is a difficult life event to face, but to go through a long, expensive and exhausting high court application while being a single parent compounds the difficulties. I may not be able to do much else but empathise and listen but sometimes knowing someone actually knows that it’s like, does provide some comfort.

Through God’s Love, CC

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