With the school summer holidays fast approaching, you might be wondering where you stand when it comes to spending more time with your children whilst they are home from school, and whether either parent can prevent the other from taking the children on holiday abroad.
Whilst no two families are the same and each case will be fact specific, we have set out some questions that we are frequently asked below to help you navigate the summer holiday season. We have used the term parent for simplicity but it applies to all those with parental responsibility for a child and the term child to reference a child under the age of 16.
None of the below should be taken to constitute legal advice and if you are unsure of your position please contact a member of our family team to discuss your specific situation.
What are my rights for requesting more time with my children during the holidays?
At a very general level, neither parent will have greater “rights” than the other. Provided both parents have parental responsibility, the rights and duties that each parent has towards the children are equal.
How the children share their time between parents and grandparents during school holidays will depend on their specific circumstances. For example, how far apart do the parents live? Will someone be around to look after the children throughout the holidays? What are the views of the children?
What can I do if the other parent won’t agree?
If you do not already have an Order in place specifying when the children will stay with each parent throughout school holidays, communication between parents as a starting point is key. Whilst we appreciate that in some circumstances, it might not be possible or appropriate, letting the other parent know your wishes and plans with as much notice as possible is sensible.
Often parents who are separated will share dates for care over the school holidays at the beginning of each calendar year. Parents may take it in turns to agree whose dates take priority each year. This allows both extended families to plan and, if agreement cannot be reached, it allows time to use the various routes to resolving, outlined below.
Speaking with a solicitor within our Family Team does not automatically mean you will end up in the Court process, or that conversations will become adversarial in nature. At TLT, we always recommend exploring out of court options in the first instance, with the aim of facilitating an agreement in relation to child arrangements without the assistance of the Court. This could mean engaging with a mediator or therapist, considering child inclusive mediation, or conversations between solicitors or around a table with both parents and their advisor if possible. We do not even have to communicate with the other parent if you would prefer to keep communications direct or via a mediator, but it can be empowering to attend mediation fully informed as to your rights and responsibilities within the framework of the law and avoid either party making unreasonable demands.
You might find the assistance of a mediator useful to encourage conversations surrounding the arrangements for the children and narrow any gaps. Working towards agreeing a parenting plan can help to focus conversations. Additionally, we would recommend speaking with a Resolution accredited solicitor to understand the legal framework surrounding children arrangements and the options available to you. Resolution solicitors adopt a code of conduct and approach which should always seek to ensure that the children are placed at the heart of decisions and wherever possible should aim to help take the heat out of any disagreement between parents.
If all else fails and you cannot agree how the children should spend school holidays, you can make an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. This should be seen as a last resort but equally, allow for the inevitable delay in the court dealing with any disputes. Unless there is good reason for the court to make space for an urgent hearing, an application can take many months to resolve.
If asked to consider the arrangements for your children, the Court will apply the Welfare Checklist with the aim of reaching an outcome that is in the best interests of your particular children.
Can I take my children abroad?
The answer to this will depend on whether you have a Child Arrangements Order in place and if you do have an Order in place, what the order says.
If there is no Child Arrangements Order in place, the written consent of everybody with Parental Responsibility for the children is required before you can take the children overseas (this often means the written consent of both parents – see key terms below for more on “parental responsibility”).
If there is an Order in place stating that the children “live with” Parent A, then Parent A can take the children on holiday for up to 28 days without written permission from the other parent. You can have an Order that states that the children “live with” both Parent A and Parent B, in which case either parent can take the children out of the country for up to one month.
Additionally, even if the Order does not specify that the children “live with” either Parent A or Parent B, the Order might specify who can take the children out of the country and for now long. For example, it is commonplace to see wording within a Child Arrangements Order specifying that “each parent is permitted to take the children out of the country for up to two weeks”.
In this scenario, the Order might also request that the parties share certain information regarding the holiday arrangements, such as flight details and numbers and details of the accommodation.
You should also investigate the legal requirements for entry into or through any other country as many will have specific requirements when you are travelling with a child alone. For example, you may need not only the written consent of the other parent but also their consent on a specified form, the child’s birth certificate or contact details for the other parent.
Finally, if there is a Special Guardianship Order in place, the Special Guardian can take the children abroad for up to three months without the consent of anybody else that holds Parental Responsibility.
What can I do if the other parent won’t agree?
As above, if you are struggling to reach an agreement we would always promote out of court methods of dispute resolution in the first instance. This could mean both parties speaking with a mediator to determine why one party is anxious about the children travelling abroad.
It might be that the other parent has specific concerns that can be alleviated by providing more information about where the children will be travelling and the arrangements whilst you are away (e.g. where you will be staying, who you are travelling with).
Ultimately, if you have been unable to reach a resolution outside of Court, you can apply for a Specific Issue Order which, if granted, would allow you to take the children abroad on holiday (according to the terms of the Order).
When deciding whether to grant a specific issue order, the Court will consider what is in the best interests of your particular child, applying the Welfare Checklist. You will need to provide the Court with information surrounding where you are travelling, the specific travel arrangements, where you will be staying, how long you intend to be away for and why the holiday is in the best interests of the children (this could be because the children will have the opportunity to spend time with extended family overseas, for example).
The Court will want to know whether the country you are travelling to is a member of the Hague Convention and whether, if allowed to travel with the children, there is any risk that the children won’t be returned to the UK.
Additionally, there will be a consideration of the children’s wishes and feelings, the age of the children and the settled situation leading up to the holiday. For example, how often do the children stay overnight with each parent? If the children have not had regular overnight stays with the parent intending to take them on holiday, it might be that contact needs to increase gradually in the lead up to the holiday taking place. How this looks will depend on the children’s needs and how well they are likely to adapt.
Longer term, you might also want to ask the Court to make a Child Arrangements Order covering what will happen during school holidays each year, as well as the wider arrangements for the children.
If you are applying for a Specific Issue Order, it is important to do so with enough time before the holiday to allow the Court to consider the application. There is a risk that Applications made at the last minute will not be heard in time, due to court processing times.
Do I have any say over where the other parent may take our children?
This will depend on where they are planning to take the children. In most cases, if the other parent is planning a holiday and there is either (1) an order in place specifying that they can take them away on holiday or (2) they obtain permission from the Court, subject to sharing the necessary information about where they are going, you are unlikely to be able to stop the children going to a particular holiday destination.
The only exception to this would be if the children are at risk of harm, in some way, as a result of the proposed holiday. This might be because the children would be at risk of harm in a particular country, or you have reason to believe the other parent does not intend to return the children.
If you do have reason to believe the children are at risk of harm, you may need to apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order. We would suggest speaking with a family law professional in the first instance.
I am worried that the other parent won’t return our children. What can I do?
If you are concerned that the children may not be returned to England and Wales, you can apply to the Court for a prohibited steps order to prevent the children from travelling abroad. You can also ask for a Port Alert to be put out or of the child’s passport to be surrendered and/ or no further passport issued without the Court’s permission.
If you are in this situation, you will need to demonstrate to the Court why you are concerned about this risk. Have they made plans to move overseas themselves? Do they have a strong connection to the Country they are visiting? How strong are their reasons for returning, for example do they have a job and assets here still? Has the other parent indicated that they do not intend to return the children or made threats of this nature? Less common place, objections may be raised due to concerns over the children’s safety in a particular country or destination.
In the event that the children were permitted to travel but did not return in accordance with an order or a written agreement, this would fall under the category of Child Abduction and the options available to you will depend on which country the children have travelled to. Provided the country is a member of the Hague Convention, you can apply to the Court under the Hague Convention for the children to be returned.
Child Abduction is a complex area of law. We would therefore recommend that you speak with a family law professional as soon as possible if you have any concerns that your children have been, or are likely to be, taken overseas and not returned.
What can I do if the other parent refuses to hand over the passports?
If you have a Child Arrangements Order in place, the Order will often specify what should happen to the children’s passports in between holidays, and how and when the passports should be made available before any trips overseas. If the other parent does not comply with the terms of an order that is in place, you may be able to apply to the Court to enforce the order.
The key is to act as quickly as possible if this is an issue. Trying to understand why there is reluctance to hand over passports is the first step. Sometimes it is used as a means to leverage information about travel. Try to extend the same courtesy you would like shown to you in terms of sharing travel arrangements for the children. If you would like to know where they are staying and which flight they are travelling on then be prepared to share this information with the other parent.
Agreeing a date for the passport to be sent in advance and a date for it to be returned is sensible. If there is more than one child sometimes the passports are divided between the parents during regular “non-holiday” time to avoid the feeling that one parent is in control.
You might find the use of a parenting App (such as Our Family Wizard or similar) an easier means of communicating if conversations directly are difficult.
If you find that you cannot agree on this point, then you are likely to need to seek the assistance of the Court, whether that is bringing an application to enforce an order that has been breached, or to request a specific issue order as outlined above. If the court feels that there is no risk to the child in traveling abroad and objections to travel or releasing the passport have been raised unreasonably they are likely to take a dim view. If your ability to travel is backed by a court order then you may be able to reclaim for lost expenses from the other parent if travel is frustrated.
Finally, it should be remembered that different countries have different rules about travelling with one parent, so it is important to do your research to determine what is needed before travelling.
Key points to remember
Wherever possible, try and agree the arrangements for your children with the other parent. This can be via direct conversations, with the assistance of a mediator, or via solicitors. Child inclusive mediation and family therapy could also be options to consider.
Aim to agree a Parenting Plan setting out how the children will share their time between parents and how school holidays and holidays abroad will work. For example, who will keep hold of the children’s passports? What information regarding holiday bookings and hotels will need to be provided?
If you cannot agree you can seek the assistance of the Court, though this should be seen as a last resort and it is not always possible to secure a court hearing in time. We would recommend speaking to a Resolution accredited family law professional before issuing an application to. provide you with the information that you need to engage with discussions on an informed basis.
Remember to research the country that you are visiting for any specific requirements that you need to comply with. This could be in relation to evidence that you have obtained permission from the other parent, any medical requirements such as vaccines that are needed before travelling, or rules relating to COVID.
If you have any questions regarding overseas travel or Child Arrangements generally, you should contact a member of the Family Team at TLT who would be happy to arrange an initial conversation. Our Family Team are all members of Resolution, an organisation committed to approaching family matters in a non-adversarial way.
Parental Responsibility means all of the rights and duties that parents have towards a child. The child’s mother will automatically have parental responsibility from birth. The child’s father will have parental responsibility from birth as well if, either (1) the parties were married when the child was born, or (2) he is named on the child’s birth certificate.
Where a child is born to two female parents the parent who carried the child will automatically have PR as above. The second female parent will be treated in a similar way to the father.
It is also possible to acquire parental responsibility subsequently by entering into a parental responsibility agreement or by an order of the court. You will also acquire parental responsibility when adopting a child.
Welfare Checklist means the list of factors set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, that the Court will need to consider before making an order.
Special Guardianship means an order giving parental responsibility to a specific person for a child.
Special guardianship orders were introduced to bridge the gap between adoption and child arrangements orders, where a child requires additional protection without severing the link between a child and their birth parents.
The special guardian will be able to exercise parental responsibility for the child to the exclusion of anybody else with parental responsibility, hence the responsibility given to a special guardian is sometimes referred to as “super parental-responsibility”.