Publish date

7 June 2021

International holidays and child arrangements – what are the key things co-parents need to consider?

Kirstie Law shared her expertise in a recent article for Wealth Briefing

With international travel now permitted again in England and a new traffic light system in place, we explore the key things co-parents need to consider when it comes to holidays abroad this year. In particular, we look at the options available to parents who may disagree over travel arrangements.

What are the current rules around international travel?

Currently, under England’s traffic light system, foreign countries are classed as green, amber or red – with different rules for quarantine and testing in place for each when you return. These vary from not needing to quarantine at all for green list countries, to needing to pay to self-isolate in a Government approved hotel for red list countries.

Even those travelling to green list countries will need to take at least two tests – one to get back into the UK and one on day two after you return. Children under 11 are exempt from needing to take these tests.

The Government has also stipulated that people should not travel to amber or red list countries for leisure or holiday purposes.

Of course, there may be other requirements in the country you are travelling to. More information about specific country’s rules can be found on the Government’s website here.

It is also worth keeping in mind that rules can change very rapidly.

What does this mean for co-parents?

The above rules add an extra level of complexity for co-parents attempting to navigate child arrangements over the summer, either in terms of children visiting a parent who lives overseas, or when one parent wants to take the children on a holiday abroad.

In the case where one parent lives abroad and the child or children usually visit for a certain amount of time in the school holidays, if both parents agree it is best for the child or children not to travel at the moment and there is a child arrangement order in place, this can be changed. This can usually be done by agreement without having to vary the order as most orders include provision for variations by consent.

It is worth noting this should be done in writing so there is a record. It is also sensible to look at other ways to facilitate contact between the child or children and the parent who is abroad. This could either be in the form of video calls or even by helping to facilitate the parent travelling to England to see the child or children.

In the case where parents are happy for their child or children to still visit a parent overseas, or even if both parents live in England but one wishes to take the child or children on holiday abroad and both parents are in agreement that travel can go ahead, there are certain practicalities to be considered. For example, if visiting an amber list country and needing to self-isolate on return – children must self-isolate with the parent they went on holiday with, and remain in that parent’s home for the duration of the quarantine period. This may mean they spend a longer period of time than usual with one parent, or it may impact on the other parent’s plans.  If anyone in the holiday group tests positive on the pre return test the whole group will then need to isolate delaying the return.

Contingency plans also need to be put in place in case the rules should suddenly change or if a flight is cancelled at short notice, as is often the case at the moment.

As such, it is really important to have conversations as early as possible and plan ahead. Again, if any travel does result in a temporary change to a child arrangement order, then this should be done in writing.

As always, what is in the best interests of the child or children must be central to any plans or discussions. If at all possible, it will be beneficial for co-parents to be as flexible and co-operative as possible.

How to resolve any disagreements about travel

If both parents have parental responsibility for the children (and there is no court order in place that allows for them to be taken out of the jurisdiction) the parent wishing to travel must either obtain permission from the other parent to take the children out of England and Wales or obtain permission (an order) from the court allowing them to do so. It is important to ask for consent as early as possible, so that there is enough time to make an application to the Court for permission if this is necessary.

If a  parent has an order that children live with him/her then this means unless the order provides otherwise that he/she can take the children out of the country for up to four weeks without needing the other parent’s permission and some orders include general permission for both parents e.g. for an annual two week holiday.

In cases where one parent does not want the child or children to travel abroad, then if there is no Court order in place the onus is on the parent wanting to travel to apply for permission.  If the other parent disagrees, they need to make sure they have formally notified him/her that they do not consent.  It is an offence under the Child Abduction Act to remove children from the jurisdiction of England and Wales without either the consent of everyone with parental responsibility or permission from the court.

If there is a Court order in place which gives permission for travel, the onus is on the parent who objects in this instance to apply for a prohibited steps order preventing the holiday or international visit this year. Ultimately as with all Children Act applications the court has to decide what is in the best interests of the children.  This will vary from case to case. Children are likely to find periods of isolation frustrating and it may seem unfair for the parent who has not had the benefit of the trip to potentially have restrictions placed on them when the children return. The reason for the trip will be taken into account as well.  Is it just a holiday for pleasure or will the children be seeing extended family that they have not seen for over a year and would benefit from spending time with? Depending on the children’s ages their wishes and feelings may be taken into account. Again if required the application should be issued early and the practicalities properly thought through.

It is important to remember that the last 18 months or so of the pandemic has been an unsettling time for many children and so if additional stress or anxiety over travel arrangements can be avoided then that is likely to be in the best interests of the child or children in question. As such, if parents can co-operate, perhaps through mediation if not directly, then hopefully a resolution can be found that works best for the child or children involved.

This article first appeared in Wealth Briefing Magazine

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