The latest set of Coronavirus restrictions have been announced including the much-anticipated guidelines for the Christmas period, meaning families can now plan their festive breaks.
The Government has included a five-day ‘Christmas Bubble’ allowing families from up to three households to spend time together over the festive period from 23-27 December.
For many families, this will involve travelling abroad to spend time with family, friends or simply to enjoy some time away. Specialist family lawyer Laura Bond looks at the complexities of travelling abroad for separated families and offers a Christmas travel checklist for parents unsure of the rules.
Laura, an Associate with national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, said: “Whilst the unique circumstances of this year will undoubtedly make careful planning more essential than ever, this is particularly so for separated parents who may have extra hurdles to overcome to ensure travel plans go smoothly.
“Any separated parent who is considering travelling abroad with a child under the age of 16 this Christmas should bear the following points in mind, or if they are still in doubt, contact a family law specialist.”
- If you want to travel outside of England and Wales with your child the consent of everyone with parental responsibility, or permission of the Court, is required. If you have a residence order in your favour (i.e. an order that the child lives with you) you can take your child away for up to 28 days without the other parent’s permission. If there is no such order but another Court Order exists, check its terms carefully for any relevant specific permissions relating to holidays and that you meet any required conditions needed for travel.
If you need the other parent’s consent, this should be sought at an early stage as you may need to apply to Court for a specific issue order if consent is refused. It is usually considered reasonable to ask for travel information such as dates and flight details before releasing the passports or giving consent to a holiday, so be prepared to give this information.
- Consider the risk in terms of the pandemic. Give particular thought as to what the infection levels are in the destination country, any lockdown measures in force there, and the standard of their healthcare system. You should also make proper enquiries as to the safety measures in place in the accommodation you have booked and in the local area. You also need to check the airline’s requirements and make sure you and your child are properly prepared for travel and can meet any testing requirements. If you are satisfied that the benefits of travel outweigh the risks then you should be prepared to share the results of your research with the other parent. If you are asked to give to consent to your child going abroad, you should satisfy yourself as to the relative risks and benefits of the proposed holiday before consenting.
- If there is a Court Order in place which sets out the arrangements for the children, then you must ensure that your proposed travel plans do not breach the terms of the order. You need to check that the holiday dates, including any travel, fall within periods when the child is supposed to be spending time with you, and that they do not impinge on the child’s time with the other parent. If you want to change anything in the Order, you will need the agreement of the other parent, preferably in writing, or you will need to apply to the Court to vary its terms.
- Make sure you know the quarantine rules, both in the destination country and on your return home. If these rules cause unexpected changes to travel plans or affect the terms of any agreement or order when you arrive home, you could find yourself in breach of an order and risk being penalised by the Court.
- Think about who holds the child’s passport and any other documents you may need, such as the birth certificate. If the other parent has them, seek to agree arrangements for their release and return at the end of the holiday.
- Check the entry requirements for sole parents travelling with a child in your destination country, including the age at which a person is no longer considered a child. Some countries may also require the written permission of the other parent, a Court Order or sworn affidavit, for example, South Africa, Canada, Portugal and Russia.
- Consider how your child will keep in contact with the other parent whilst on holiday. There may be specific provisions in an order about contact via telephone, Facetime or other method, but if not the usual provisions when at home should still apply where possible, or alternatives agreed before you leave. You will also need to ensure that you have appropriate devices to enable this indirect contact.
- If you are asked to consent to your child being taken overseas and there is no Court Order, or if you are asked to release your child’s passport, trust your instinct. If something about the proposed trip does not feel right, then you should not consent. If you are concerned about the other parent’s intentions in planning a trip you should ask for evidence of return flight details and confirmation of itinerary. Are they behaving oddly, being secretive or vague about their travel plans? Has your relationship with the other parent been particularly strained recently? Also think about the destination– why is your child being taken there? Is that country a signatory to the Hague Convention on the International Aspects of Child Abduction? Does the child’s other parent have ties to the destination country or a strong wish to return to live there, or a wish that your child is brought up there?
If in any doubt, speak to a specialist legal advisor at the earliest opportunity. It is much easier to prevent a child being wrongfully removed than to seek their return after it has happened, even where the destination country does have a reciprocal agreement with the UK.
Laura said: “Good preparation is the key to safe, hassle free travel with children at any time, but particularly so this Christmas where the risk of Covid-19 has to be taken into account, together with the varying quarantine rules in place which could have a serious impact on any plans.
“Whilst it may be tempting to delay making holiday arrangements until the rules on international travel or quarantine are clarified, if you think the other parent may cause any difficulties for you it is important to try to get an early agreement on certain issues to avoid costly litigation and delays at Court.
“If you cannot agree the arrangements, you will need time to seek legal advice and make an application to court or engage in another dispute resolution method such as family arbitration or mediation.”