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Parental responsibility when travelling abroad


Charlotte Hurst, a trainee solicitor in Harrison Drury’s divorce and family law team, offers guidance for parents travelling abroad with children this summer.

Travelling with children when you’re divorced or separated can be tricky. You may be asked for proof that any children accompanying you are allowed out of the country, so make sure you’ve got all the necessary documents in place before you travel.

With the holiday season fast approaching the family team at Harrison Drury discuss who has parental responsibility for a child and what consent is required to travel outside the UK.

What does parental responsibility mean?

Parental responsibility is defined as ‘all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. The definition attempts to highlight the parents’ duties towards a child as opposed to their rights over a child.

Who has parental responsibility?

Married parents
Each parent will have parental responsibility for their child provided they were married at the time of the child’s birth. Either parent can act autonomously when exercising parental responsibility, subject to certain exemptions.

Unmarried parents
Only a mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child. In order to obtain parental responsibility of the child, a father can:

  • marry the mother
  • enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother – this must then be registered at the central family court
  • jointly register the child’s birth with the mother (births registered after December 1, 2003)
  • re-register the birth (pre-December 2003 registrations) to add the father’s details. The mother would need to be in attendance or a formal declaration of agreement to add details will be required
  • obtain a parental responsibility order
  • obtain a child arrangements order specifying ‘live with’

Parental responsibility may also be granted to individuals who are not a child’s biological parents by way of a special guardianship order, parental responsibility order, adoption order or child arrangements order.

Can I take my child out of the country without my ex-partners consent?

Legally, nobody can remove a child from England or Wales without the consent of all those with parental responsibility. The exception to this rule is where a child arrangements order specifying, ‘live with’ has been granted to a parent or guardian. The said parent or guardian may go on holiday with the child for a period of up to one month without the consent of the other parent.

Other orders relating to children may stipulate whether a child can be removed from the country without consent and if so, for how long.

What consent is required?

Whilst consent does not strictly need to be in writing, it would be wise to have the consenting parent sign a letter or form confirming that they consent. This will help to prevent any issues at border control.

What if one parent refuses to provide consent?

Where one parent requires consent of the other, they cannot lawfully take the child abroad without an order of the court. The travelling parent should apply to the court for a specific issue order. Failure to do so could potentially be considered as a child abduction offence.

See also our blog posts:
Do I need permission to take our child on holiday after a separation?
Travelling with children with a different surname

For additional information on travelling abroad with children, or to seek specialist legal advice from Harrison Drury’s family law team please contact Charlotte on 01772 258321.

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