Sunday, 5 May 2013

Relocation Research - First Update

My research project looking at relocation disputes in England and Wales is now well underway. I wrote about this work on the blog briefly early last year, and this seems like a good time for an update.

The work has three distinct strands. Collection of data for the first two strands is now complete, and analysis of the findings is underway. The third strand, which involves interviewing parents who have been involved in relocation disputes which were resolved within the last 9 months, is running for a couple more months.

Interviews with parents: on-going work

So far we have done about 20 interviews with parents. The stories are very varied, of course, but the one commonality that comes through is just how painful relocation cases are, whichever position the parent is in. Even the parents who 'win' their cases - fathers who successfully prevent a relocation or mothers who are allowed to move - find the process traumatic and difficult. For those who 'lose', the position is even worse.

We are keen to increase the number of stories that we have for the study, so that we can get the fullest picture possible of what the experience is like for parents. If you are a parent who was involved in a relocation case (international or internal, and whether the relocation was allowed or refused) that was resolved in the last 9 months and you are interested in being interviewed about the experience, please do get in touch. Similarly, if you are a family lawyer who has a current or former client who might be interested, please contact us. There is an information leaflet available here.

Court cases and questionnaires: completed work

The other two strands of the work were conducted in 2012, and the analysis of the findings is now underway. The first strand involved collecting from courts as many relocation cases as possible over the year. For international relocation disputes, 95 cases were collected in this way; for internal relocation, 22 cases were submitted. This disparity might be explained in three ways.

First, when people think about 'relocation' they usually think international. The project relied on judges and lawyers submitting material to be studied, and they may have focused on their international cases. Second, internal relocation cases tend to be heard by District Judges in the County Courts, whereas international relocation cases usually go to Circuit Judges or High Court Judges. The sheer number of DJs makes it harder to contact them and they have a very high turnover of cases, so getting material from them may be more challenging. Third, there may actually be more international relocation cases that reach the courts than there are internal cases. The reason for that would likely be that parents are more able to negotiate the outcome when an internal relocation is proposed, whereas international cases are very difficult to agree.

The other strand of this research involved a questionnaire for family lawyers. The questionnaire was sent out both electronically and in paper copy, delivered at conferences and seminars and by direct mail to solicitors and barristers around England and Wales. 187 usable responses were received. Some of the questions were evaluative, but most asked the lawyers to give detailed information about their most recent relocation case. The aim was to be able to compare the cases reported by lawyers with the cases collected from the courts.

The analysis of these findings is now underway. There is a lot of work to do, but one or two initial findings can be shared here. First, looking at international relocation cases in 2012 (so, 95 court cases and 84 of the 187 questionnaire responses), one question is: what do we mean by international? Where are people proposing to go?

Graph 1 shows that there are three dominant destinations: countries within the EU, the USA and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand. That is probably not that surprising. International relocation cases arise for a number of reasons, but 'going home' (for the parent or a new partner) and 'new start' are both common reasons, and the links between Britain and other EU countries on the one hand, and with English-speaking developed countries on the other, makes these proposed destinations unsurprising.

Another question might be to ask how old the children are who are involved in these cases. On average, each case has 1.5 children, and Graph 2 shows the distribution of their ages. While there is clearly a little bit of variation between the court case sample and the questionnaire sample, overall the message from the two seems to be the same. There is a small peak of children just before school age, and then a main peak around 7 or 8. The drop-off of children aged 12+ is unsurprising, and is probably explained by the increasing
importance the the wishes and feelings of children as they start to get into adolescence and, in the relocation context especially, start to be able to understand the consequences of the decisions being taken a little more clearly.
These are obviously fairly basic bits of information. The work that we are doing at the moment is asking about much more involved questions, mainly trying to see what the data can tell us about which factors do and do not help to predict the outcomes of cases. We are not ready to make those findings public just yet, but it does look like there are some exciting results to come. Factors like (i) the child's previous care arrangements, (ii) the reason for the proposed relocation, (iii) the possibilities for maintaining a good relationship with the non-moving parent if the relocation is allowed, and even (iv) the type of judge and the location of the court are being considered, and we hope that this analysis will allow us to give useful pointers in future.
Rob George is lead author, with Frances Judd QC,
Damian Garrido and Anna Worwood, of "Relocation:
A Practical Guide", a practical handbook for lawyers
and parents who are involved with relocation cases,
to be published by Family Law in early June 2013.