The summer holidays are upon us. What should be a time of happy anticipation can be stressful in the circumstances where separated parents do not agree on whether their former partner can take their child on holiday or do not agree on the destination.
If the child’s parents were married to each other, they both have parental responsibility. If they were not married but the father is named on the birth certificate, again they both have parental responsibility. If an unmarried father is not named on the birth certificate, he does not automatically have parental responsibility but can apply to the court to obtain this.
Parental responsibility confers obligations and responsibilities on the parents of the child. Both parents have to agree on all important decisions in the child’s life such as which school he or she attends, any important medical treatment and whether the child can be taken abroad. If the parents with parental responsibility cannot agree on whether a child should be taken on a foreign holiday, then the travelling parent will have to make an application to the court for permission to take the child abroad. The exception is where one parent has an order in his or her favour stating that the child ‘lives with’ him or her, in which case that parent can take the child abroad for up to one month without the other parent’s consent. Where a court application has to be made, the court will generally determine that it is in the child’s best interests to have a holiday unless there are safeguarding issues or a risk of abduction.
However, there are some steps that separated parents can take to avoid their case ending up in court on the eve of a holiday. I advise clients who want to take their children abroad to plan in advance. They should provide details of the proposed destination, accommodation, contact numbers, dates and flights to the non-travelling parent. They should also provide a deadline for the non-travelling parent to confirm the trip is agreed. If it is not, that will leave sufficient time for the parents either to enter into mediation about the matter or to make a court application for permission.
If a parent has already booked a holiday and is intent on taking the child on the holiday without the other parent’s consent, the non-travelling parent can make an application to the court for a prohibited steps order to prevent the holiday, for example, if it is to a destination that the non-travelling parent does not consider is safe or if no details of the trip have been provided or if there is a perceived risk that the child will be retained abroad indefinitely.
When the court is deciding whether a child should be taken abroad on holiday it will look at what is in the child’s best interests. If the holiday is given the green light, separated parents should ensure that they have the sufficient documentation to travel with the child. Quite often, if the travelling parent has a different surname to the child, some airlines or countries may require a letter of authority from the non-travelling parent or other documentation. This should also be planned in advance and a court order may be required to ensure the non-travelling parent signs the requisite documents.
In short, to avoid the stress and cost of having to make a court application to take a child on holiday, parents should plan as far ahead as possible, provide full details of the proposed trip to the non-travelling parent and try mediation with an independent third party before using the court process as a last resort.