With children going back to school it might be helpful to look at the case of F v G  EWFC B12 where the Family Court made an unusual order which provided for siblings to be separated. The court determined that the elder child should live with the father in London and the younger child should live with the mother in the countryside. Ultimately, the siblings were separated as it was found to be in the elder child’s best interest to avoid changing schools given his difficulty coping with change due to his autism.
The children in this case were a girl aged three and a boy aged nine. They shared the same parents and had lived together as a family in London. The parents’ relationship broke down and initially, they continued living close to one another in London and shared the care of their children.
During lockdown, they agreed that temporarily it would be beneficial for the children to move out of London to the countryside with the mother so that they had more space. During that time the parents went to significant lengths to ensure that the elder child was able to continue his education and engaged a private tutor for him.
The mother subsequently decided that she wanted the move to the countryside location to be permanent as it meant she was close to her new partner. She subsequently purchased a house and made it clear that she would not be returning to London. The father did not agree to the move as he felt this would impact his relationship with the children.
An internal relocation application was therefore made to the court.
In the course of the proceedings and largely due to the conclusion of a CAFCASS report, the father accepted that the younger child should live with the mother. This was partly due to the ‘unusual circumstances’ of the child’s birth, but this is not expanded on in the judgment.
The case thereafter centred on what was in the best interests of the elder child and whether he should predominantly live with his mother and younger sister, or with his father, which would result in a separation from his sister.
The Judge’s decision came down to the following:
- Whether the mother or father was better able to meet his daily needs;
- Whether living in London or a country village is likely to be beneficial;
- How he is likely to cope with a change of school and whether there is any evidence that it will be better for him to change schools; and
- The implications of possibly living separately from his sister.
In conclusion, the Judge found both parents could meet the child’s needs. However, he was not satisfied that there was any benefit to living in the countryside over London, and while he did feel that there was a significant advantage to both children living together the decision ultimately came down to schooling. The Judge was not satisfied that there was positive merit in a change of school.
'He has been at his school in London for the whole of his school career so far and given the potential difficulty for any child in changing school at a different time from his peers there would have to be a very positive benefit in the new school proposed to make it worthwhile. I do not understand or accept that if he has difficulty with friendships a change so that he has to make a completely new set of friends even if they are people he has met at holiday club is likely to be beneficial for him…..I am not satisfied that that is in his best interests when I take into account the impact of moving schools from something that is good to something that is uncertain…’
The Judge stressed throughout that he had been concerned about separating the siblings and made the point that ‘it is not attractive to split siblings as a rule’. He went on to make an order providing for the children to spend time together 14 weeks a year, being all school holidays plus all weekends where they would alternate between parents.
The decision is a stark reminder that each child's welfare needs to be considered separately. What is best for one child may not be the same as for their sibling and their individual needs. Furthermore, while the Family Court will try to avoid separating siblings, in the right circumstances, such orders can be made if it is genuinely in the children’s best interests.