At this time of the year, one of the most common questions that a family lawyer is asked is whether separated parents need to seek permission from the other parent to take a child abroad on holiday.
Anyone who has parental responsibility for a child will need to provide their consent for that child to be taken out of the country.
Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children, but fathers will only have it if they are married to the child’s mother, listed on the birth certificate as the father (from December 2013) or if he has a Court Order which grants him parental responsibility.
If there is a Child Arrangements Order in force that states the child lives with you, then you are able to take the child abroad for up to 28 days without anyone else’s consent.
Why is it so important to obtain consent?
If a child is taken out of the country without consent from everyone who has parental responsibility, then the criminal offence of International Child Abduction will have been committed and anyone found guilty of such an offence can be fined or imprisoned or both.
So what happens if you have asked for consent and it is not provided?
In such cases, it is important to consider why such consent is withheld. If it is withheld without good reason, or if you disagree with the reason given, or indeed if no reason is given at all, then an application can be made to Court for a Specific Issue Order.
Such an Order can be applied for on an emergency basis if travel plans have already been made. The Court will want to hear from both parties before making an Order.
If you are a parent who has refused such consent and believe that the other party is still taking the child out of the country, then you may want to consider making an application to Court for a Prohibited Steps Order which would prevent the removal of the child from the Court’s jurisdiction.
What practical steps should be taken?
It is important to provide details of travel arrangements to everyone who has parental responsibility such as evidence of return tickets, accommodation details of where the children will be staying and if possible, contact details such as telephone numbers in case of emergencies.
A party is more likely to agree to a holiday being taken if such details have been provided well in advance and if any contact missed between the children and the non-travelling parent can be arranged so that the children can have contact with the non-travelling parent as soon as practical upon their return from the holiday.
The Court will also require such information and are more likely to approve an Order if the party applying for the Order had provided such details to the non-travelling party.
It is important for the travelling party to return on time as abduction is also known to have occurred once the child has not been returned after an agreed period of time.
Legal advice should always be sought as soon as possible when there is a fear that consent is unlikely to be provided or if there is a genuine concern that the children will not be returned.