Can my ex stop me moving abroad with our children?
The Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie relationship difficulties seem never-ending, and unfortunately, it’s a situation many warring ex-couples are all too familiar with. The divorce, which Jolie filed for in 2016, has gone through many iterations, including custody discussions and property discussions; they were declared legally single in 2019 but the legal arguments between the two continue.
At Christmas time, an anonymous source told US Weekly: “Brad and Angelina are equally responsible for the never-ending drama. Sadly, their children are collateral damage.”
The latest news from Hollywood is that the couple’s eldest son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, has testified against his father during the exes’ lengthy custody battle. We have learned, according once again to stories attributed to an anonymous source, that “Maddox has already given testimony as [an] adult in the ongoing custody dispute and it wasn’t very flattering toward Brad. He doesn’t use Pitt as his last name on documents that aren’t legal and instead uses Jolie. Maddox wants to legally change his last name to Jolie, which Angelina has said she doesn’t support.”
Jolie filed new court documents on Friday, March 12, that accused Pitt of domestic violence. The papers state that the actress and their children — Maddox, 19, Pax, 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 14, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 12 — are willing to offer “proof and authority in support” of the claims against their father.
The couple are now said to be hashing out custody and financial arrangements, which will see their youngest children provide testimony – if they give permission.
A big factor in the couple’s battle is Jolie’s much reported desire to move abroad with the children – something which Pitt is reportedly vehemently opposed to.
This week the family law experts at the Group’s specialist family and children law firm McAlister Family Law will each day look at the specific elements raised in this sad case. American law is not the same as the law in England and Wales, but there are sufficient similarities to make these issues universal for divorcing parents. Today, Melissa Jones, Associate, answers the question: can my ex stop me moving abroad with our children?
Can my ex stop me from taking the children out of the country?
If one parent wants to take a child abroad, whether permanently or temporarily, the other parent with parental responsibility needs to consent. Anybody with the benefit of a Child Arrangements Order (for the child to live with them) can remove the child from England and Wales for a period of less than one month without the consent of the other parent with parental responsibility.
When parents separate, one of the considerations might be moving out of the family home and to a close location, but for others they might want to move much further away, potentially to another country entirely. When children are involved in the move, tit can be quite daunting for the parent remaining in the original country, and equally just as worrying for the parent who wants to move, as they don’t know if their plans can go ahead.
Can Angelina and her children be forced to stay in Los Angeles?
This case is being decided in the USA. In England and Wales, both parents’ consent would be needed for the move. If an agreement cannot be reached and a parent fears the other parent will travel regardless, that parent can apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order.
The first step the parties should look at in a dispute of this kind is whether they can engage in meaningful discussion or perhaps alternative dispute options such as mediation or the help of solicitor in negotiations.
What if the other parent still refuses the move?
This is quite a complex area of law. If consent is not forthcoming, a parent can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order, for permission of the court to relocate abroad with the child(ren).
However, such proceedings are intricate, and complicated. In the particular case of Jolie and Pitt, the court would need to scrutinise the proposals by Angelina Jolie and be satisfied that the proposals are reasonable and very importantly, in the children’s interest.
The case of Payne v Payne provided a number of factors the court will consider in an international relocation matter. Such factors include being satisfied that there is a genuine motivation for the proposed move and not simply to bring a divide between the other parent and the children, and in effect stop contact. The court will need to look at the effect on the “left-behind parent” if the move was granted alongside the contact that they would be able to have.
There has also been a more recent case of Re C  in which the courts provided a more streamlined approach to decided such cases:
– There is no difference in the basic approach between external relocation and internal relocation. The decision in either type of case hinges ultimately on the welfare of the child.
– The wishes, feelings and interest of the parents and the likely impact of the decision on each of them are of great importance, but in the context of evaluating and determining the welfare of the child.
– In either type of relocation case, external or internal, a Judge is likely to find helpful some or all of the considerations referred to in Payne v Payne  1 FLR 1052; but not as a prescriptive blueprint; rather and merely as a checklist of the sort of factors which will or may need to be weighed in the balance when determining which decision would better serve the welfare of the child.
We will have to wait to see what the American courts decide. Sometimes, when both parents possess seemingly limitless funds, they will carry on arguing in court for years. As a family lawyer, I wonder about the damage that may be done to the children involved.