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Travelling with children can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences both for the children and the adults involved.  Long-lasting and fond memories will be created which will be discussed time after time yet if you are travelling as a single parent or with someone else’s children – such as your grandchildren – is it really that simple?

If you don’t give this proper consideration and make the correct legal preparations for the holiday, what would have been a fond memory can fast turn into something of a nightmare with far-reaching implications.

Consent or court order?

To travel with children anywhere out of the jurisdiction (i.e. England and Wales) you need either:

(a)  The consent of everybody who shares parental responsibility for the child; or

(b)  A court order allowing the trip to occur.  This could be either a court order which specifically refers to and permits the intended trip or it could be – as is more commonly the case – a court order in which you are named as the person with whom the child normally resides and in which case would permit you to take the child out of the jurisdiction for up to one month at any time without requiring further action in terms of securing consent or a court order first to be taken.

If you don’t fall into either of the above categories and remove children from the jurisdiction, your actions may constitute the criminal offence of child abduction and have serious consequences.

So, who has parental responsibility for a child?

Parental responsibility is the legal right, duty, power, responsibility and authority a parent has for a child and the child’s property.  A person who has parental responsibility for a child has the legal right to make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing.

Parental responsibility for a child can be shared by a number of people and it is important to remember that, in the absence of a court order, you must have the consent to removing the children from the jurisdiction from everyone with parental responsibility.  This is even the case if you are the child’s parent.

Parental responsibility is automatically acquired by the child’s mother upon giving birth to the child.

The father usually has parental responsibility if:

(a) he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or later;

(b) he was registered as the child’s father on his/her birth certificate (for births registrations that have occurred only after 1 December 2003)

If a person is not the child’s mother but is connected to the child (e.g. as their father, step-parent or 2nd female parent) you can acquire parental responsibility either by:

(a) entering into a properly documented parental responsibility written agreement with everyone else who already has parental responsibility for the child; or

(b) by obtaining a court order the effect of which would either directly or indirectly be to award you parental responsibility.

If you need to make an application to the court, always remember to do so promptly.  A lack of preparation on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency for the court and if you leave it late, having known about the proposed trip for some time, do not be surprised if you do not receive much sympathy from the court.

Also remember that if you do overcome the legal requirements to enable the trip to occur, it is always beneficial to ensure you carry with you not only the court order or document evidencing the consent of everyone else with parental responsibility but also, if you do not share the same surname as the child, a copy of the child’s birth certificate and something to demonstrate how you are connected to the child (e.g. a copy of your marriage certificate, decree absolute or letter from the child’s parents giving their consent to the trip and explaining your connection to the child).  The more documentary evidence you have, the easier and smoother the trip should be.