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Crossing borders with children as a separated parent

Date:5 FEB 2019

With the Christmas holidays just behind us, one of the most common issues that usually arise during that time of the year - between separated parents - is seeking permission to take their child on holiday or to visit family abroad. Gemma Davison an associate at Spratt Endicott, looks at the details.

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Why is permission so important?
We all know the risk of child abduction to another country is a very real fear, and not a matter to be treated lightly. 
If a child below the age of 18 is taken abroad, without the written consent of everyone who has parental responsibility for that child, then a parent may be found guilty of abduction and be either fined, imprisoned or both.
When travelling abroad, checks are in place to reduce the potential risk of child abduction. These checks, whilst completely necessary, can also add stress and worry to a journey, particularly for families with separated parents and /or different surnames.
For example, if a separated parent travels with a child whose surname is different to theirs, they should not be surprised or alarmed if customs officers speak directly to their child and ask them questions to try and gauge their reactions. This is to make sure they are not under duress or frightened.
Gain permission and plan ahead
The additional questioning by customs officers can add stress and worry to the travel, and could lead to delays and missed flights. It would therefore be advisable for separated parents, who may have a different surname to their child, to ensure they have the necessary permission and plan ahead using these five simple steps. 
Five steps to stress-free travel abroad
Gain written permission
  • Get written permission from the child’s other parent or those with parental responsibility. 
  • If you have a Child Arrangement Order in place which states that a child is going to live you, then you can normally take your child abroad for up to 28 days without getting permission, unless the court states otherwise.
  • However, it may be helpful to gain written consent from those with parental responsibility, showing that you are going abroad with their agreement. It is best to include the destination, dates of the holiday and the other party’s contact details.
ID confirming your previous surname
  • If you previously had the same surname as your child, bring with you any expired or old ID you have showing this.
Copy of your child’s birth certificate
  • A copy of your child’s birth certificate is useful to have, so the names of the parents can be matched to your passport by the customs officer.
  • Be aware, if your name has changed since your child’s birth, this may indicate a red flag to a customs officer and the below documents should be taken.
Copy of your marriage certificate
  • A copy of the marriage certificate detailing your name and that of the separated parent of your child, as this will show the names before marriage.
Change of name deed
  • A change of name deed, if applicable, will show the customs office that the name has purposefully been changed.
Whilst these documents are not compulsory, we would recommend that before booking a holiday abroad, it is advisable to check the requirements of the country to which you are travelling. This is also relevant if you are a grandparent taking a child on holiday.

This is not to say that separated parents and their children will be questioned every time they travel abroad or if they have different surnames, but when you are having to adhere to strict time constraints to be able to travel to the destination of your well-deserved break abroad, it is better to be prepared than to miss a flight!

Gemma Davison joined Spratt Endicott's family team as an associate in February 2016, having previously worked in Banbury and Oxford. She qualified as a Solicitor in 2009 and specialises in financial matters following separation and divorce. gdavison@se-law.co.uk
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