As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, relocation matters do not constitute a special category of case. They require the court to undertake the same inquiry as any other parenting matter. But when it comes to considering the child’s best interests, re-location matters have a tendency to engage certain best interests factors more strongly than most other parenting disputes. These factors relate to the benefit of a child maintaining a meaningful relationship with both parents and the effect that the court’s refusal to make orders for re-location may have upon the applicant’s parental capacity. The Full Court’s decision in Morrall & Olmos  FamCAFC 2 is one of the most recent examples of how these factors influence the court’s assessment of the child’s best interests.
Morrall & Olmos involved an appeal from the appellant father in relation to orders permitting the respondent mother to relocate to Germany with the their six year old daughter, B. The respondent mother is a German national and a permanent resident of Australia. She immigrated to Australia in 2002 and is forty-three years of age. The respondent father is a national of an undisclosed country and is also a permanent resident. He is thirty-nine years of age. The parties began living together in Brisbane in November 2009. They married the following month. Their child, B, was born in 2010 and has been in her mother’s primary care since birth.
In November of 2011, both the mother and child travelled to Germany. They were later joined by father in December. He returned to Australia in January. Although the mother and child were expected to return with the father, the parties agreed that she would remain in Germany with the child until 14 February 2012.
The mother did not return Australia by the expected date. This caused the father to commence proceedings under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to have the child repatriated to Australia. Having been unaware of the proceedings brought against her, the mother decided to return to Australia with the child and resume her relationship with the father. This occurred on 31 July 2012.
The mother eventually moved to Canberra with the child in November 2012. The father remained in Brisbane while he completed his PhD. They separated four days after the mother had moved from Brisbane to Canberra. The father had commenced proceedings in December 2012 and moved to Canberra to take up employment in March 2013.
The parties resolved the proceedings by way of consent orders. The orders provided that the child would live with the mother and spend time with the father four nights each fortnight and each Thursday after day care.
In February 2015, the mother was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. In June of that year, her employment contract was terminated. The mother commenced relocation proceedings in November. Specifically, she sought that the consent orders be set aside, sole parental responsibility and she be permitted to relocate to Germany with the child.
Ultimately, it was ordered that unless an order requiring to requiring the mother to return to Australia was made, she would remain in Germany with the child.
The trial judge’s decision was, in essence, based upon the following findings:
On appeal, the husband argued that the trial judge had erred in failing to properly apply s 60CC(2)(a) of the Family Law Act. This particular section of the Act is concerned with the benefit to the child of having a relationship with both parents. In this regard, the husband claimed that:
The Full Court rejected the father’s submission that the trial judge had erred in failing to property apply s 60CC(2)(a) on the following bases. During the course of the trial judge’s decision, it was held that:
Additionally, to the extent that the trial judge referred to the mother’s interests, it was always in relation to her parental capacities. It is necessary for a court to consider a party’s capacity to care for a child. And such considerations often involve consideration the parties’ interests where a failure to fulfil those interests may have some bearing upon the child’s welfare.
The Full Court also rejected the husband’s claim that the trial judge erred in finding that the child’s relationship with the father would flourish. In this regard, it held that:
Finally, and contrary to the father’s submissions, the Full Court accepted the trial judge’s finding that the mother’s mental condition would deteriorate to such an extent that it would undermine her relationship with the child. This particular consideration attracted significant weight given that
The concern, therefore, was that any further decline in her mental condition might undermine the child’s relationship to her primary attachment figure. As a result, the quality of parenting that the child would receive would decline to such an extent that permitted the relocation was justified.
Morrall & Olmos seems to be the most recent case in a line of authorities underscoring the significance the primary attachment figure’s psychological well-being. This is not be confused with the notion that it is the primary attachment figure’s mental state per se that featured most prominently in the Full Court’ analysis of the child’s best interests. Rather, it is the extent to which the primary attachment figure’s mental state might undermine the child’s best interests by affecting the quality of parenting the child is to receive. This appears to be a very weighty consideration