Separated parents taking a child on holiday
Taking your children on holiday, whether abroad or within the jurisdiction can prove to be a complicated process after separation. After all, whilst parents are together as a couple, it is simply a case of arranging travel, accommodation and shopping for holiday essentials (although we will all agree that this is never truly a simple task!). But what happens when one is separated from their partner and both parents split their time with the children between them? Planning holidays can potentially disrupt the other parent’s contact with the children. Of course, in some cases, in particular where parents remain amicable, it is possible to work around such scenarios and exercise a degree of flexibility as to contact arrangements.
You may have heard of horror stories of a parent taking their child(ren) abroad and failing to return, resulting in an extremely difficult and stressful process for the absent parent to secure the return of their child(ren). This would amount to child abduction which is out of the scope of this article. However, there are many circumstances where abduction isn’t the issue at hand; a disruption to one party’s contact with the child(ren) or an unreasonable objection to one parent’s plans to take the child(ren) on holiday can cause significant levels of conflict between parents.
Thankfully, there are ways of dealing with such matters.
What does the law say about separated parents taking children on holiday?
The starting position is that ‘no person shall remove a child from the country without the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child unless the court allows it ‘(S.13 Children Act 1989). Taking the children abroad without the consent of the other parent could lead to criminal prosecution (Children Adduction Act 1984). However, for periods less than 28 days, consent is not required if the parent in question possesses a Child Arrangements Order which says the child shall live with them. Generally speaking, if there is an existing Child Arrangements Order, then the child must be made available when such court order requires.
Initial steps to follow include talking to your ex-partner and explaining the purpose of the holiday and proposing alternative contact arrangements in order to compensate for any lost days/contact sessions for the other parent.
If you are planning to leave the country with your child(ren) for a period exceeding twenty eight days, you should seek consent from the child(ren)’s other parent and provide the following details:
- Destination and Dates
- Accommodation and addresses
- Flight numbers and;
- Telephone number(s) in case of an emergency
Steps to take in the absence of mutual agreement
If it is not possible to reach an agreement by way of discussions with your ex-partner, mediation should be considered. If mediation proves unsuccessful or it is deemed unsuitable prior to any sessions taking place (often where there are concerns of domestic abuse), one or both parties may be required to make an application to the Court.
Before an application can be made to the court, the prospective applicant must attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) or provide evidence of any applicable exemption. A MIAM is a preliminary meeting which will allow you to consider whether mediation is right for you. Such meetings can be held separately from your ex-partner.
What can I do if my partner does not consent to the proposed holiday?
If you live with your child(ren) and there is an existing court order with regards to contact, you can take your child(ren) on holidays within the prescribed periods of contact, but would need to ensure they are available for contact with the other parent in accordance with the court order. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your partner to allow you to go on holiday outside the terms of the agreement or for a period exceeding 28 days, you can apply for a Specific Issue Order (SIO). This is an order the court can make when it is asked to decide a particular issue that the parents are not able to resolve between them.
The application can be free-standing, meaning that it does not need to arise during existing family proceedings. It is suggested that such orders should be made prior to the booking of holidays, however the court can hear such applications on an emergency basis.
As with any case concerning children, the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration (S.1 Children Act 1989) during proceedings. The court will consider each application carefully and will often commission a report from CAFCASS before making a decision in the best interests of the child. The court can also attach conditions to such applications.
What can I do to prevent a parent from taking the children on holidays?
If you have parental responsibility and you want to prevent your ex-partner from taking the children on holidays, you can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO). The application can be free-standing, meaning that it does not need to arise during existing family proceedings. This is an order which stops a parent from or taking particular steps or actions in relation to the child, for example arranging a holiday without the other party’s consent. It is important to remember that a PSO cannot be used to achieve contact and must be motivated by genuine concern. The welfare of the child remains the paramount consideration. The court will assess the situation and decide whether such order will be granted.
Planning holidays and the impact it may have on parents mean that it can be problematic without careful consideration. If you have experienced a similar scenario or wish to find out more, contact Arjun Sreedaran of rhw’s Family Law Team for further information.
Tel: 01483 302 000