At a recent Commons debate, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq highlighted the growing number of parents in the UK travelling abroad with children being “blighted by confrontations that are both unnecessary and entirely avoidable” by “over-zealous” border control. Ms Siddiq’s plight was in respect of parents travelling with children who have a different surname. This is a common occurrence for unmarried, single or separated parents travelling across borders with children.
So what are the rules for separated or single parents when travelling abroad with children this Christmas?
The rules are quite simple. Even where there is an agreement or an order from a court in place specifying child care arrangements, permission is needed from both parents to go abroad, failing which you will need an order from a court.
What is permission? A simple “yes” should be enough, but an email or written communication confirming that the planned travel abroad is agreed will mean that you have something to show to border control if they are “over-zealous” as Ms Siddiq suggests. The Home Office’s advice is that single parents with a different surname to their children should travel with a marriage or divorce certificate with them. However, if you are separated but not yet divorced, you should carry something else in writing from the other parent providing their permission for the travel. The Home Office’s advice is English orientated. For parents in Scotland there are no exceptions to the rules in terms of how long you can take children abroad without the other parent’s permission. You must have the other parent’s permission in the first place.
How do you get permission? Asking is a good starting point, but give the other parent basic information on where you are planning to go, where you will be staying and flight or other travel details. You would expect the same in return.
Agree in advance when passports, suitcases and everything else for your children to have a good time on their Christmas holidays will be handed over. Check ahead that passports will cover the full period of travel and whether they are needed for where you are going. Particularly for younger children, try to agree a time when a phone call home will be made and how regular any communications or updates will be.
If the plan is to travel outside of the UK this Christmas, don’t leave seeking the other parent’s consent to go abroad until the last minute. If you have a clear message from the other parent that permission to fly off to the Alps is not going to be given, don’t simply hope that will eventually change. Take advice from a specialist lawyer on what can be done if you don’t have permission or you may find you need to stay at home.