No one goes into a relationship with a contingency plan. When you have a child with someone, your first thought isn’t “What if we split up and I want to move to another city with my kid?”
But as we've seen with Melissa George this week, it’s a question that needs to be asked. The 40-year-old is attempting to remove her two sons, Raphael, three, and Solal, one, from France after the breakdown of her marriage to French entrepreneur Jean David Blanc, 48.
George is now reportedly facing kidnapping charges after attempting to leave France with her children who were born there. The case has once again shone a light on the difficulty of moving children overseas without the consent of both parents.
Under the Family Court of Australia, moving with your child or children to another town, state or country is known as “relocation” and it requires an agreement or court order.
I know because as a child I was “relocated.” When I was ten years old, I moved from a small, country town in New South Wales to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory with my single-parent mum and twin sister.
Before the move, my sister and me spent every other weekend with our father and he agreed to us flying back to spend school holidays with him after the move. Despite living in another state, it worked out we would actually spend more time with him that way.
As kids, the move was an exciting and eye-opening experience and we thrived in the NT. We saw the Todd River in flood, learnt about our country’s rich Indigenous culture and went on day trips to Simpson Gap and Glen Helen Gorge.
As an adult, I still think of the move as the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Part of me will always call the Alice home. But memories of my outback upbringing are also tarnished by the Family Court battle that followed.
After happily living in the Northern Territory for six months, making best friends and excelling at school, a man knocked on the door of our family home. He handed my mum a subpoena to return to New South Wales to face the Family Court. I don’t remember the details of the letter, but I clearly remember the threat of the Federal Police coming to get me if my mum didn’t comply with the subpoena. As a kid, that was terrifying.
I remember my mum let my sister and me sleep in the lounge room together the night before we had to fly back; our eyes were puffy from crying. I desperately did not want to leave my school, my friends or my swimming pool.
When we returned to New South Wales, the Family Court process was long and drawn out. I remember being made to sit in a room with my father and play with toys while someone made notes behind a two-way mirror. The whole experience had a negative effect on me and I look back on that time as dark and unsettling.
In the end, after months of legal proceedings, paperwork and family counseling sessions, we were allowed to return to our life in the Northern Territory and continued to visit my father in school holidays.
When dealing with relocation cases, the Family Court says it “will consider the best interests and welfare of the child.” It’s often assumed that the best interest of the child is to live with both parents in the same town. But sometimes it’s best for kids to move, grow and learn; even if that means being away from a parent.