The sun is out and the school summer holidays are on the horizon. As the temperature heats up, so can tensions in co-parenting relationships. For children, the long summer break can mean rest and relaxation. For some separated parents, it can mean difficulties and drama in negotiating a child’s international travel.
Knowing your legal rights can help simplify your summer. So, what do you need to know?
I’m a parent…surely I can take my own child on holiday?
The law is clear – a child cannot be taken abroad without first obtaining permission of all those with Parental Responsibility or a Court Order. There is one exception – if you are parent with a Child Arrangements Order saying the child lives with you, the child can travel without consent of the other parent for up to 28 days.
Your starting point therefore is who has legal Parental Responsibility? Whose permission is required?
Many parents are shocked to discover that they need the permission of their co-parent. If a child travels without the required permission, it is considered child abduction which is a criminal offence.
Forward planning and clear communication is key. If you are unable to obtain the appropriate permission, as a last resort, you may need to ask the Court to make a Specific Issue Order to allow your child to lawfully travel.
Should I give permission for my child to travel?
Travel abroad can be an exciting and enriching experience for a child. Even in the most acrimonious relationships, many parents will not stand in the way of their child having a nice holiday.
You should balance the risks and benefits in your particular circumstances. It is wise to seek as much information as possible to best inform your decision: dates and times of travel, contact details, addresses, proof of travel tickets and where appropriate, the opportunity to speak to your child whilst they are away.
What legal and practical steps can be taken to mitigate the risks of your child not being returned?
If your decision is that you do not want your child to travel, you may need to apply to Court for a Prohibited Steps Order or Orders using the High Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction to stop travel. For example, asking the Court to exercise its powers to seize passports and implement a port alert.
What about child abduction?
The risks of parental child abduction are particularly high for international families with connections abroad and those in high conflict disputes. The consequences of child abduction can be devastating with the ‘left behind’ parent not knowing where in the world their child is and when they will see them again.
If you have any concerns about your child being taken abroad without your permission, you should act upon those concerns by seeking legal advice.
If your child has already been taken abroad, you need to act fast. Many countries, including the UK are signatories of the Hague Convention 1980. This is an international treaty which provides a legal mechanism for the prompt return of the child who has been wrongfully removed or retained. This can however still mean a court case over international waters which is never easy. For non Hague Convention countries, a child’s return can be much more difficult.
Longing for ‘home’
A holiday to your native homeland can trigger a decision that you wish to relocate permanently with your child. If you cannot negotiate or mediate an agreement with your ex, you may have to ask the Court for leave to remove your child.
Whether you are the parent seeking to relocate or a parent seeking to keep your child in the UK, to maximize your chances of success, you should set out as much information as possible to the Court: what are the implications to the child’s welfare of the proposed move? What is the impact on the child’s relationship with the ‘left behind’ parent and how can this be maintained?
It is also the season of ‘wrongful retention’ of a child abroad. A parent may have given permission for their child to travel abroad. Their return date can however be delayed by the other parent – whilst the initial travel was lawful, the failure to return the child as agreed is unlawful and is a ‘wrongful retention’.
If you are the ‘left behind’ parent, key advice is to act without delay to take urgent legal action to have your child returned. The sooner a parent takes legal action, the more likely the child will be returned. In any event, a Hague Convention application has to be made within 1 year of the date of wrongful removal or retention. Do not fall into the trap of agreeing an extended stay which can drift from weeks to months to years and can ultimately mean a parent is out of time to make certain applications. Whatever your particular circumstances and travel plans for your child, we can help you with specialist legal advice to navigate the legal considerations and risks associated with a child’s international travel.