Skip to main content

Ex Not On The Beach – Holidays And Separated Parents

Holiday season is fast approaching. In a matter of weeks schools will be out for the summer and people will be dreaming of far-flung beaches and Azure blue seas in an attempt to escape the great British weather.

Holidays abroad can present challenges for separated parents.

The law says that no parent can take a child out of England and Wales without the consent of the other parent, provided they both have parental responsibility, or with permission of the court. It is also a criminal offence to remove a child without the consent of all parties with parental responsibility. 

The position is different where a parent has obtained a court order which provides that the child lives with them (in which case the parent can take the child abroad for a holiday of a maximum of 28 days), however those orders are not always in place given that there is a long-established principle that the court will not make orders in relation to children when relationships break down unless it absolutely has to. 

Parents might find that they were able to agree how the children should divide their time between them when the relationship broke down, however things can change, and it might be that what was not an issue has become one for a variety of reasons including one parent having a new partner on the scene or the parent is travelling to a particularly problematic country.

What should parents think about?

It’s important to plan things in advance and aim to avoid any last-minute panic which might ruin or scupper the holiday.  In most cases difficult conversations about holidays abroad arise as a result of a lack of good communication and understanding about what the other parent’s fears or worries might be and how they can be dealt with. Listening is key.

Compare a situation in which a parent is provided with information well in advance of a holiday about when and where the child is travelling, with an opportunity to check out the accommodation and raise any timing issues (for example “would you mind getting the 10am flight instead of the 6am flight because that's very early for Jack to get up and ready in the morning”) with a situation in which the parent is told about the plans after they have been booked and only a matter of days before travelling. That may not work in every case (for example with a parent who is a truly high conflict personality and might do all they can to disrupt the holiday plans if they know about them too far in advance) but in most cases will smooth the way.

Whether you are going on holiday abroad or even staying in England and Wales, I would always recommend providing at the other parent with full details about the holiday. This should include dates for travel, flight details, details of where you will be staying and emergency contact information. If these are provided well in advance, you have time to resolve any issues and hopefully reach agreement so that you can relax and enjoy planning for your holiday.

Make a plan about passports and if held by the parent who isn't travelling come to an agreement about when the passport will be handed over which ideally should be a good period of time before the holiday.

What to do if it all goes wrong?

If you can't reach agreement, then it is possible to make an application to the court for a specific issue order. However, a refusal to agree to a holiday abroad is often rooted in fears or concerns that might not have been fully explored. It is very likely that there will be a solution which will assuage those fears and enable the child to enjoy the holiday with the other parent. If there is a concern about failing to return, measures can be put in place and incorporated into an agreed order.

This makes this sort of disagreement ideally suited to resolving in mediation and a court will want to know what steps the parents have taken to use non-court options before making an application in any event. 

The mediator can guide the parents through the issues they are experiencing, help identify worries and concerns and explore solutions which may well mean that an agreement can be reached in a relatively short period of time. The mediator can also work with other professionals if, for example, the parents want to know what a court would do if they made an application. For future years, the mediator can help the parents plan how they will deal with holidays, so the same concerns do not arise again.

Staying in England and Wales

Where parents are staying in England and Wales, they do not need the express consent of the other parent to travel, however I would give the same advice about planning in advance.  It is still good manners, good co-parenting and in the child’s best interests to let the other parent know what your plans are and decide how they will be spending their summer.

There might also be issues about summer holiday activities, what the children are doing and how activities are to be paid for.  All of these can be discussed and resolved in mediation. 

In conclusion, plan well in advance, listen to concerns, seek to resolve them and if that isn’t working speak to a specialist family mediator who will be able to explore your options with you.