School’s almost out for summer and many thousands of families will be heading off on holiday.
For separated and divorced mums and dads the six week long summer break can be one of the most testing times for co-parenting. Each parent is likely to want to take the children away for a break. Among the questions I am often asked as a family lawyer are “can my ex take my children abroad?” and “how long can my ex take my children away for during the summer?”
If you are confused about your rights surrounding holiday arrangements, or if you and your ex cannot agree, then my five tips might help:
1. No child can be taken outside England and Wales without the consent of all parties with parental responsibility. The only exception is where there is in force a Residence Order specifying with whom the child shall live. In that case the parent with the order can take the child outside of the jurisdiction for a maximum of four weeks. It is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act to remove a child without the consent of all parties with parental responsibility.
2. Ideally parents taking children on holiday this summer should have already sought permission from the other parent. It is good practice to seek permission well in advance, to iron out any issues and address any questions. If you have not got permission yet then I urge you to do it immediately – and not leave it until the eleventh hour. You should also agree when the child’s passport will be handed over.
3. Whether you holidaying at home or abroad, details of where you are taking your child or children should be provided to your ex as a matter of course. Give the other parent your flight details, travel plans and dates, together with where you will be staying. This is both sensible and courteous, particularly given anxieties about various incidents that are happening around the world. Whilst one parent may feel that some overseas destinations are perfectly safe, the other may have concerns about even a camping trip in Cornwall.
4. In the event that one parent withholds permission unreasonably, or there is an issue over the release of the child’s passport, then the only remedy is to make application to the court for a specific issue order. This will never be an over night solution – hence the need to insure that agreement to a holiday is obtained well in advance – and ideally in writing. That way any issues that come to light can be addressed in good time. In my experience, courts can be quite accommodating when urgent hearings are required, but a court application is not a good start to anyone’s holiday!
5. I urge parents to keep the interests and welfare of their children at the forefront during all discussions and plans for the holidays. Giving and taking, and being reasonable, will only make the holiday better for everyone – including the parent left behind. For example if a flight is delayed and lands late, do not insist on your child coming home if it adds further time to the journey and is inconvenient. Be realistic about the availability and timings of flights and other travel arrangements. Even if you are a parent with a Residency Order in place, try to be accommodating and give some flexibility to the arrangements made by the other parent. If both parents plan to take their children abroad, consider the practicalities of two long breaks – such as organising and packing and how children will cope with two sets of long journeys (particularly if they are young).
If you have any concerns about children’s issues, or any aspect of separation or divorce, you can email Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone her on 01748 900 694. You can follow Silk on Twitter @silkfamilylaw