When a marriage breaks up, the court’s primary consideration is the welfare of any children, and their views are of great importance when a decision is being made as to which parent they should live with. In law, a child is a person under the age of 18.
Clearly, a more mature child is better able to make a reasoned decision in this regard than a young child, and the question of to what extent and how children’s views should be taken into account will shortly be the subject of recommendations from the Family Procedure Rule Committee – the body that makes the procedural rules for family cases heard in the Family Court and High Court.
A recent case involving a UK-resident French couple illustrates the approach the courts take. The family had lived in London for many years and also spent time in the USA. When the couple split up, the mother wished to relocate to New York with their two children, aged 17 and 15 years of age.
However, a judge ruled that the children should remain in the UK and that the earlier ‘child arrangements order’ should continue in force until the two children were 18.
When the mother and the elder child appealed against the decision of the lower court, the evidence of the children was significant. The Court of Appeal discharged the order as regards the elder child and ruled that it would last in respect of the younger child until the age of 16.
In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal focused on the lessening of parental control over children as they grow up and reminded itself that the closer they get to the age of majority, the more weight should be given to their views.