Do I need permission to take my child on holiday abroad?
17 May 2021
After an extended period without the prospect of international holidays, the recent Government announcement has once again opened up the possibility of international travel. Whilst still far from straightforward, from today, foreign travel is allowed for people who live in England, Scotland and Wales, subject to the rules set out in the new traffic light system, with visits to the ‘Green List’ involving fewest restrictions and, crucially, no quarantine on the return to the UK.
With international travel now back on the cards, lots of separated parents will be thinking about booking a holiday abroad. If this applies to you, it is important to think about whether you need to get consent from anyone else, usually the child’s other parent, before doing so.
If you do require another person’s consent to take your child out of the jurisdiction (which includes England and Wales, but not Scotland or Northern Ireland) and you fail to do, so the consequences can be very serious, as you could be committing a criminal offence.
Travelling with children: the legal position for separated parents
The legal position will depend on who has parental responsibility for a child and whether the child is the subject of any orders made in the court.
When there is a court order:
Any person who has a child arrangements order in their favour which includes an order that the child lives with them can take the child out of the jurisdiction for up to 28 days at a time. It may be that the court has ordered that the child lives with both parents and, if so, either parent can take the child out of the jurisdiction for up to 28 days at a time.
Sometimes, the court makes prohibited steps or specific issue orders that directly address the issue of holidays abroad. If your child is subject to a court order, make sure you have read this carefully and understand any provisions that relate to holidays.
When there is no court order:
The consent of every person with parental responsibility is required before removing a child from the jurisdiction, whether for a holiday or for a longer period of time.
A child’s mother always has parental responsibility from birth. A child’s father or second parent may have parental responsibility, which can be acquired as follows:
- By being married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth;
- By being named on the child’s birth certificate;
- By entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother;
- By obtaining a parental responsibility order or by virtue of having a ‘lives with’ child arrangements order from the court.
Occasionally, a third party may have parental responsibility for a child, such as a step-parent who has entered into a step-parent parental responsibility agreement with the child’s parents or a third party who has an order in their favour that relates to the child.
Next steps: obtaining consent to travel abroad with your children
If you want to take your child out of the jurisdiction and have established that you require the consent of the other parent, or anyone else, communication is key. Start the dialogue early, ideally before you have booked the holiday so that you are not presenting them with a ‘fait accompli’, and keep them updated as your plans progress. You should expect to share the full details of the proposed holiday, to include dates, travel arrangements, accommodation details, information about who else may be joining you on the holiday and an emergency contact number. With international travel only recently back on the agenda, and still subject to restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic, sharing details and reassurance about planned Covid-19 safety measures would also be advisable.
Whilst verbal consent is valid consent, it is advisable to record the consent in writing. These days, most countries are alive to the risk of child abduction, so you could find you are asked questions when you leave the UK or are at a foreign border. Delays that may impact on your travel plans can usually be avoided if you can produce a letter that confirms consent to the holiday. This should include the details of the trip and the other parent’s contact details. It is also helpful if you bring evidence of your relationship to the child, such as a birth certificate; if your name has changed since the child was born, you need to bring evidence of this (such as a marriage certificate, decree absolute if you are divorced or a change of name deed).
What to do when consent to go on holiday is refused:
If you cannot obtain the consent of everyone with parental responsibility to take a child on holiday, you can ask the court for permission to remove them from the jurisdiction. The court generally considers holidays with parents to be a positive experience for a child and is inclined to grant permission, so long as there is no genuine reason that the holiday is not in the child’s best interests.
A holiday may not be in a child’s best interests if it is not in keeping with the child’s existing relationship with a parent. For example, if a child has only ever stayed with a parent for one night at a time, proposing a two-week holiday may be considered inconsistent and too fast a progression for the child.
The court rarely supports a holiday during term time or in a country that the foreign office advises against travelling to.
When children travel with relatives or friends:
It is not unusual for children to travel with their grandparents or other family members, or to be invited to join a holiday with a friend and their family. In this situation, the same rule applies: make sure a letter signed by each person with parental responsibility for the child accompanies their passport.
Check the rules in your holiday destination
This blog deals with the law in England and Wales when travelling with a child. Make sure you check the requirements in your destination, as it may have its own laws which apply when travelling with a child and you will need to make sure that you also satisfy these.