Travelling Abroad With Your Children This Summer? Don’t Get Caught Out!

Year Published: 2016

With the school holidays now upon us and many families about to go away for their annual Summer break, I thought it would be timely to share some advice for parents travelling abroad with their children or their children’s friends.

Which countries are difficult to enter without permission?

If the children are travelling with only one parent, unaccompanied or with neither of their biological parents, it is always advisable to seek advice from the Embassy of the country to which you are travelling. There may be additional requirements to exit the UK and enter that country.

Some examples of this are in South Africa, Canada and the United States:

  • In South Africa, new immigration rules were introduced in 2015 relating to travelling with children. Parents will be asked to show the child’s full birth certificate which should list the child’s details as well as both parents’ details. If you are travelling on your own with your child, you will need signed confirmation to prove that the other parent is happy for you to take the child in and out of South Africa.
  • If you are travelling to Canada on your own with your child, you will have to present the child’s passport, a copy of their birth certificate and a letter of authorisation which is signed by the parent who is not travelling. The letter of authorisation should list the address and telephone number of the parent not travelling and a photocopy of their passport. Parents who are separated or divorced should also carry any orders made by the court.
  • Whilst the U.S. does not require additional documentation the U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommends that unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the adult should have a note from the other parent authorising the trip together, along with any court orders.

What do separated parents need to know/do in advance of travelling abroad with children?

If you look after your children on a day to day basis, then you can take them on holiday. However, you must make them available for any court ordered contact e.g. scheduled time with the other parent or grandparents. If you would like to take them abroad, then you must obtain the agreement of your children’s mother or father (if he has parental responsibility) and also anyone else who has parental responsibility.

If the mother/father will not consent to you taking the children abroad then you can make an application to the family court for a Specific Issue Order. Once the court grants permission then you do not need anyone else’s permission.

Can I take my children abroad with a Child Arrangements Order?

Yes, if you have a Child Arrangements Order which states that your children live with you. You can travel abroad with the children for up to 28 days without seeking permission from everyone with parental responsibility. However, if there is an order in place prohibiting this then you must not take your children abroad.

We do advise that anyone with a Child Arrangements Order still consults others who have parental responsibility about travelling abroad.

If you intend to take the child out of England or Wales for longer than four weeks, you will need the appropriate consent. If this cannot be obtained then a court order would be required.

The family court can make an order allowing you to go on holiday on one occasion. If there are likely to be further disagreements, they can set out an order which allows for regular holidays.

What can I do if I don’t want my children to go on the holiday?

If you are worried about your child going on holiday with their other parent, you can make an application for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO). This can be made whether it’s simply a holiday in England or Wales or whether it’s a holiday abroad.

In the case where a father does not have parental responsibility then the mother would not need his permission to take their children on holiday.

Is it a problem if my children don’t have the same surname as me?

If your children do not have the same surname as you, then you may have difficulty at passport control. It is not a legal requirement in the UK. However, you may wish to travel with some form of written confirmation that proves you are the child’s parent.

Over the last five years reports have been made of thousands of women that have been asked to prove their relationship when taking their children through border control. Passport and immigration staff have a duty to screen for child abduction or trafficking.

However, this does not take into account the number of women who don’t share the same surname as their children or that cohabitating families are the fastest growing family type in the UK. The Home Office advises parents to carry documentation proving their relationship when travelling abroad.

What happens if you don’t have permission in place?

When there is no Residence Order in place, it is a criminal offence for a person connected to a child (such as a parent, guardian or anyone with parental responsibility) to take or send the child out of England or Wales without consent from those who have parental responsibility or permission from the court.

If you are found guilty of child abduction you can be sent to prison or fined or even both.

Can a judge refuse to give a parent permission to take a child out of the country?

When making the decision the courts will determine what is in the best interests of the child. They will also consult a welfare checklist which considers:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child.
  • The child’s physical, emotional or educational needs.
  • How the change in circumstance is likely to affect the child.
  • The age, sex and background of the parent and any other characteristics that may be relevant.
  • Any harm that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer.
  • How capable each parent (and anyone else the court considers relevant) is of meeting the child’s needs.
  • The powers available to the court (such as Prohibited Steps or Specific Issue Orders).

Ultimately, the decision to give permission lies with the court. So yes they can refuse the permission if there are concerns with one of  the points on the welfare checklist.

For more information about travelling abroad with children or any other family matters, please contact our Family Law team on 0161 475 7676.

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