Family solicitors throughout Scotland will know the 'bible' that is Greens Family Law – but how green (or not) is family law?

Climate change is a hot topic (excuse the pun) and at COP26, the world will focus on what can be done to inspire immediate climate action. Carbon footprint is a phrase with which we're all familiar, but how big a role should a parent's footprint play when it comes to deciding a child's place of residence or contact arrangements?

A family separation comes with a number of issues – financial, social and environmental. Whilst the emotional impact on both parents and children cannot be undermined, consideration should be given to the environmental impact of a separation.

Often instead of running one household, separated parents find they need to run two unless they choose to 'birdnest'. One may need to purchase another car. The children may need additional sets of school uniform to have at each house.

When making any decision about a child, the Children (Scotland) Acts 1995 and 2020 state that the child's best interests ought to be the paramount consideration. But with the world now being encouraged to halve emissions and protect and restore nature, will parents, solicitors and sheriffs need to also consider the interests of the planet? We need to ensure that the world in which our children are to grow and live is habitable, above sea level and not covered in landfill, but at what cost?

Relocation with children

Following the separation, one parent may decide to relocate for employment purposes or to reside with a new partner. When deciding whether or not to grant a relocation, the Sheriff needs to consider a number of factors including, but not limited to:

• Who the primary carer was prior to the separation;

• The type of accommodation on offer both in Scotland and abroad;

• Any language barriers;

• The schooling arrangements in both countries;

• The ability of the respective parents to support the child financially in each location;

• The support network available to each parent

• The child’s own support network;

• How contact with the other parent will be facilitated.

It's likely that relocation will impact on the remaining parent's contact with the child/children and require some degree of travel for contact. Whether the relocation is up north, down south or further afield a car, train, plane or maybe even boat will be required. That additional travel – which is necessary to ensure the child maintains regular and meaningful relations with the remaining parent - will come at a financial cost but also an environmental one.

Child contact and carbon footprint

By how much would a parent's carbon footprint increase if they are court ordered to travel to London once a month or get the train from Edinburgh to Inverness every second weekend to have contact with their child? Will a Sheriff encourage a parent to plant X number of trees to combat the carbon emissions from their quarterly flight from Glasgow to the Middle East? Will a parent have to prove they are committed to household recycling before being granted an order to relocate to Europe with their 3 children?

The child's best interests are always paramount, but when the child lives on a planet aren't the best interests of the two inextricably linked?

How much weight – if any at all - the courts will attach to the environmental impact of court-order relocations or contact arrangements is yet to be seen, but it is a thought provoking point, to be aware of in future. 

This is the fourth and final instalment of our 'Green Family Law' series.  Read our other blogs in the series- part one, two and three.


Kate Bradbury