Following the announcement of the Queen’s grandson and his wife that they intend to end their marriage, Mark Smith, a leading family lawyer who specialises in cases concerning children, explains the potential international implications of the arrangements for the children. It is unknown what the plans for the couple are, and the statement released on their behalf indicates that the children’s time with their parents will be shared. Peter Phillips, the first son of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips is British, whilst his wife Autumn is Canadian and so may have plans to relocate from their Gloucestershire home where the children have been raised. The couple met in 2003 in Montreal when Peter was working for the Williams Formula 1 team.

Relocating after divorce is not uncommon, especially so when the family make-up is international. When there are children are involved, if parties cannot agree what is best to happen, the Family court will have to consider an application based on what is in their best interests. Relocating to another city in the UK or to as far afield as Canada actually makes no difference, as seeking to relocate with children in the UK is dealt with in the same way as if you wanted to move abroad. 

Separating couples should always try to resolve the arrangements between them, and this is something a Family court would always encourage, however sometimes this is not possible. If you are in a similar situation and are planning to relocate, or hoping to prevent your spouse doing so, then taking steps early is most crucial. Increasing pressures on the family justice system, unfortunately, mean that applications can take a number of months to process, especially if heavily contested.  


If you would like to relocate with your children, it is important to look into schooling, healthcare provision and how you will ensure that your children maintain their relationship with their other parent. Put yourself in the other parent’s shoes and try to think about what would help make the change more acceptable to them. Think about the practicalities, how contact might work and consider suggesting holiday and half term arrangements especially where it might be difficult to arrange regular time during the school terms, if distance is a problem. Think creatively: technology and apps can help manage logistics – shared calendars, journals and calculators to track expenses are just some examples of things that can be used to help, on top of using things such as FaceTime to share experiences and read bedtime stories.


Seeking advice early is always important, and consider putting yourself forward as a carer for the children (if, for example, you have not been but your ex-partner is trying to relocate with the children). Thinking about the issues above from the reverse perspective is helpful, and planning how the children’s needs would best be met by not relocating, and in the absence of agreement making an application to the Family Court.  

It is not always straightforward, but in my experience trying to reduce conflict and find a solution is the best approach. Planning and thinking through matters carefully, and doing so at an early stage is often advantageous and of itself can help ameliorate what can be an incredibly stressful situation. Taking away some of the unknowns and trying to be organised is a really good starting point, and can help avoid the need for protracted litigation.  

Sarah Bell, a Senior Associate in Stephens Scown’s family team, has further information about the laws regarding relocating with children.