It’s Rumoured That Autumn Phillips Will Return To Canada After Her Royal Divorce – How Do You Handle An International Custody Battle?

As it is suggested that Autumn Phillips will move back to Canada, we ask what happens when you want to move to a different country from your spouse.

It's Rumoured That Autumn Phillips Will Return To Canada After Her Royal Divorce - How Do You Handle An International Custody Battle?

by Rebecca Reid |
Updated on

It was announced today that the queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips, 42, is getting divorced from his wife Autumn Phillips, 41. The couple have been married for 12 years. Before she was married to Peter, Autumn worked as a model and was known as ‘The Budweiser Girl’ (it was the bad old days, after all).

The split has attracted inevitably comparison to the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry situation, given that Autumn was a non-British ‘commoner’, and that Autumn is from Canada, where Meghan previously lived. But the last, and probably most difficult thing that Autumn has in common with her cousin-in-law, is that she is apparently considering a move to Canada. An anonymous friend told The Sun, ‘What worries some of us is that Autumn may want to go back to Canada.

'Maybe she has been influenced by Harry and Meghan’s departure. Perhaps she thought if that can happen then I can leave as well? That might be unfair to her but you have to consider it.’

While the world’s press wouldn’t be interested in the average divorce, wrestling with an international split is something that happens to couples all over the world. But what happens when the thing keeping you in a country - your partner - is no longer keeping you there?

Eva* is separated from her partner, with whom she shares three children. She tells Grazia: ‘I was happy to live in New Zealand with my other half, but when we broke up it no longer made sense. My friends were really his friends, my family were back in the UK and I didn’t want to live far from home because my ex had wanted us to. So we moved back. But it means that my children don’t see their father as often, and that we spend most of our disposable income flying between different continents. There is no better option - other for me to miss out on living close to my family and friends. But it’s hard.’

When you meet someone who isn’t from the same country as you, it’s easy to assume that it won’t be a problem. But realistically, if you like your family, there’s a strong chance that at some point you will want to live in the same country as them, if not down the road. When you fall in love, it might seem possible to suspend that desire. But when you split, even if the divorce is amicable, making things long distance makes them a whole lot more complicated - not least because you’re then trying to juggle international custody laws.

‘Not knowing where we were going to live was partly what ended our marriage’ says Sophia*, who is 40. ‘He was determined that we needed to be near to his family in the US, I wanted to be here with my family, neither of us was willing to compromise so in the end we broke up. Now the arrangement is a nightmare. Our children live between two countries, I don’t see them for long periods of time and I’m always terrified that they might choose to live abroad rather than with me at home in the UK.’

Divorce solicitors Jones Myers are practiced in handling international divorces. They say that it is important to understand that when you move abroad, 'your children are then under local jurisdiction abroad because the new country becomes their "habitual residence".'

They say that the biggest risk of an international custody arrangement is abduction. They say: ‘British courts have no say over what happens to the child and having British passports does not give either parent the right to take their children back to live in the UK without the consent of the other parent.

‘If there is a dispute about taking a child out of a country then requests must be settled by the family court in that jurisdiction. Whereas in the UK complex family cases are heard in a higher court, in many foreign countries a case may be heard by an inexperienced judge.’

In an attempt to avoid this occurring, they suggest having clear (ideally written) understanding about where the children will be living, keeping control over where your children’s passports are located and making sure that no-one is allowed to pick them up from school without specific permission.

Outside of kidnapping, which is a more extreme (though sadly realistic possibility), the likelihood is that you could end up in a protracted custody battle based on where your children will reside. As such, where possible, it’s worth agreeing what your plans are and where you anticipate living, before you start a family.

If you are concerned about the safety of your children in an international custody arrangement, you should contact the police, or Reunite, a charity for children who have been internationally abducted. You can call 24 hours on (0)116 255 6234.

*names changed

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