By Sarah Kellen
Finally coming out of a relationship that for whatever reason has run its course, should feel less like an ending than a new beginning. Many of us might want to draw a line between our old married existence and the life ahead by moving away and starting afresh in a new environment. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to live abroad and now you finally have the opportunity to do so. Or perhaps you have a new job that requires you to live abroad, either permanently or for a long period. Or perhaps, as suggested above, you just want a change of scene; as far away as possible.
All of these are valid reasons for moving abroad. But if you have children, it will inevitably complicate things. Leaving children behind will be a wrench, and it’s important to make sure that you stay in touch, still see them regularly and continue to meet your financial and other responsibilities towards them. However, this is still technically simpler than moving abroad with children from a relationship that has now ended.
Legally, you need to have written permission from the other parent to take your children out of the country, even on vacation, and even just over the border to Canada. Failing this, you will need to apply for a court order. Usually both parents’ signatures are needed on a child’s passport, and it’s helpful to have their birth certificate or adoption papers with you when travelling.
For the parent left behind, it can feel as if their children are being taken away from them and they may try to stop you. Try to consider their feelings, if only to stop things escalating into a legal battle. Mediation can help. Draw up an agreement in writing, covering how often they can visit the children, or have the children visit them, and for how long. Make sure you include who is responsible for travel costs.
Once you’ve cleared these obstacles, you need to help your children adjust to their new environment. One of the most pressing concerns is ensuring that they still receive a good education, ideally with the minimum of disruption between their old curriculum and the new one. A good solution to this problem is to enroll them in an international school that follows an American school syllabus and in which English is the main teaching language.
A new culture
It’s important to get the balance right between letting your children feel secure and encouraging them to immerse themselves in their new environment. Learning the language and helping them to do so is the first step. Encourage them to make new friends and to get involved with the local community; not just mix with other expat children. Eating local dishes and visiting museums with them are good ways to introduce them to the new culture. Ideally, this process should start before you move, with books, films and discussions.
Children are remarkably adaptable and resilient, so long as you listen to them, talk to them and consider their needs. When you move, choose a location that is safe and child-friendly. Don’t try to eradicate their past lives, but encourage them to be forward-looking – soon they’ll be acting as if they were born there.