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Be aware of potential problems when travelling abroad with your children

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Separated parents travelling abroad with children.

In my many years as a family lawyer I have had many requests for help by a separated parent, to take a child abroad on holiday, or for a longer stay. Such requests can usually be resolved often by the simple expediency of providing all the necessary information to the other parent such as flight details, dates of travel, accommodation details at the holiday destination and an emergency number. Most parents will not want to deprive their child of a holiday even if they feel they have other grievances with their ex.

As a family lawyer, I always advise clients to protect the child or children from knowledge of any disputes over such arrangements and most clients and parents do listen and do their best.

Different surnames can cause issues when travelling with children 

There is now however another possible source of trauma for your child if you wish to travel abroad on holiday. Clients, mostly mums, are reporting to me frightening incidents at airports over the issue of their child having a different surname to them.

A parent or family wishing to travel with a child who has a different surname to them can now find themselves refused access at check-in, or turned away at border control.  The travelling family can find themselves escorted away from their flight so that investigations can occur as to why the child with them has a different surname.

The authorities are working, quite rightly, to prevent child abduction and child trafficking, but working in a pressured environment within time limitations can lead to distress for you and your child.

One of my clients travelling recently with her children, one of whom had a different surname to the mother and her husband, was stopped at passport control. The authorities wanted to know why the eldest child had a different surname to both parents.

An explanation was given that the child was from a previous relationship, had a different father and thus a different surname.  The child was taken away, out of hearing but within sight of the parents.  The child was directed to look at the questioner only and asked who the people were that the child was travelling with.  The child was old enough to answer and returned.  The child was clearly frightened however.  The mother was told that on that occasion she could travel but that she must carry with her the right documents in the future, which were birth certificate and marriage certificate in that instance.

During the holiday, the child kept mentioning the incident every time the family queued anywhere, clearly worried about a repeat.

Preparing to travel with children – documents checklist 

So, if as a parent or step-parent you wish to travel abroad, consider not merely securing the agreement of the other parent and the passport for the child but also the right documents if a child travelling with you has a different surname.

Consider do you need some or all of these documents?

  1. Evidence of your child’s other parent agreeing to the planned travel
  2. Evidence of the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility
  3. If the other parent died, a copy of the death certificate
  4. A copy of any Child Arrangement Order confirming you have court approval to take the child abroad
  5. For a mother who has reverted to her maiden name after a divorce, any change of name deed or marriage certificate and Decree Absolute
  6. The child or children’s birth certificate so you can, with all the documents show the links from the child to the parent and their current name.

As you check passports, swimming costumes and suntan lotion also think about the checklist above to make your passage through border control as smooth as possible.

Karen Agnew-Griffith
Divorce and family lawyer, Thetford

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