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Surviving the summer holidays – a guide for separated parents

12th July 2017

Josh McEvoy gives consideration to some of the issues arising for seperated parents when planning summer holidays in Essence Summer issue.

The kids have finished school, the suitcase is packed and the long-awaited holidays are about to begin.  The approach of the summer holidays can be an exciting time for the whole family, but for parents who have separated, it can represent a time of frustration and confrontation if they are unable to reach agreement on the holiday schedule with their former partner. 

It is not unusual for family solicitors to notice an increase in enquiries from separated parents concerning holidays away with their children as the summer approaches.  How will the care of the children be split?  Who is going to go away with the children and when?  Is the permission of the other parent required?

Planning Ahead

As with many issues in life, the key to reducing tension and avoiding disagreement is good communication and planning ahead.  This does not simply mean a few weeks ahead but rather establishing plans well in advance through the summer.  The school holidays will usually represent a break from the usual pattern or routine and therefore require careful thought and consideration.

The school holidays are fixed in advance and as soon as schools provide the dates for the next academic year you should begin to plan where the children will spend their time.  This way if there are any disagreements, you give yourselves more time to resolve those issues. 

Always remember that the holidays are also for the children to enjoy and any disagreements over plans and dates will impact on this.  All decisions should be made with the best interests of the children in mind.  Where possible try to be flexible and accommodate the plans of the other parent; a failure to do this could lead to resentment and might affect their willingness to be flexible in respect of your future plans.  This resentment may also seep into other day-to-day parenting issues and ultimately it is the children that suffer when parents are unable to work together.

Travelling abroad

If you intend to travel outside of England and Wales then you will need the permission of all persons with parental responsibility for each child.  If you travel without such permission, you are potentially committing child abduction which is a criminal offence.  The exception to this is if you are named as the person that the child lives under a Child Arrangements Order then you may take the child out of the jurisdiction for up to 28 days without the consent of others with parental responsibility.

It is therefore recommended that you consult with the other parent and give them as much notice as possible before your book a holiday.  This will avoid potential disappointment and wasted expenditure.  It is advisable to ask for written consent in the form of a letter or email and likewise you should be willing to provide the same to the other parent if they plan to travel with the children.  Remember that consent can subsequently be withdrawn and if this is the case you must not take the children out of the country or you will be committing a criminal offence.  If you cannot get the appropriate consent from the other person with parental responsibility then it is possible to seek the permission of the court to remove the children from England and Wales for a temporary period (see below).

When seeking the consent of the other parent, make sure that you share as much information as possible with them about your travel plans.  The more information you share the more likely it is that they will consent to the holiday as it will provide them with peace of mind as to where the children will be going.

Holidays in the UK

Although you do not need the other parent’s permission to take a holiday anywhere in England and Wales, as set out above, if a proposed holiday differs from the usual routine or schedule you should look to agree those changes with the other parent in good time before the holiday dates.  Again, the court can make orders in respect of such holidays if this cannot be agreed voluntarily (see below).

Applications to the Court

If you really can’t agree on holiday plans, then you can make an application to the Family Court to determine the issues.  This may be to decide what time the children are to spend with each parent or grant permission to travel on a holiday abroad.  The sole consideration of the Family Court when determining such issues will be the welfare of the children.

An application to the Court should be a last resort once you have exhausted all attempts to reach an agreement with your former partner.  Quite apart from the financial and emotional cost of legal proceedings, you will be handing over control to a judge and will lose any say in the outcome of the decision.  A good family solicitor will first explore your options to reach an agreement before advising you to issue an application.

Top tips

  • Try to agree holiday schedules in advance and give sufficient notice to other parents about any intended trips. Put the children first and make sure that any arrangements remain child focussed.
  • Be prepared to be flexible and co-operate.  The ability to communicate and compromise is a key skill and you should not seek to dictate terms or plans to your former partner.  Remember if you make things difficult for your partner to take a holiday with the children do not be surprised if they do the same to you in the future.  This is also the children’s holiday and any dispute between parents will ultimately impact on them. 
  • If you intend on going away, communicate in good time to the other parent full details of your travel plans, including (but not limited to):
    • Your proposed holiday dates;
    • Travel plans (including flight numbers (or similar) and times);
    • Details of accommodation; and
    • Emergency contact details. 

Ideally seek the consent of the other parent to your proposed travel plans before you book but certainly do not leave it until the last minute to seek their agreement.

  • Always consider in advance whether any documents required to travel, such as passports or European health cards, will need to be exchanged between parents.  Some countries will also require a signed letter of consent or parental consent affidavit (for example, South Africa) from the non-travelling parent. 
  • Agree ways for the children to keep in touch with the other parent during the holidays – and encourage them to do so. 

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