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Still out there: Holiday child arrangements and COVID-19 [Updated June 2022]

Updated 24th June 2022

Rita Gupta, LGFL Director says:

"Since our last update to this article, COVID restrictions have been lifted in the UK. However, this isn’t true of every country you and your children might wish to travel to. The entry requirements for countries continue to change, as do infection rates and variants in different regions and countries.

As separated parents, you may have very different views on travel and the associated health risks. As co-parents, you need to consider that, and make sensible decisions.”

 

COVID-19 and foreign holidays: keep up to date

Precautions against the spread of COVID-19 continues to affect anyone planning to travel abroad either to visit relatives or to go on holiday. The UK may have lifted restrictions, but other popular holiday destinations have not.

Australia, for example, only lifted the requirements for a pre-departure COVID-19 test on 8 April 2022. Spain still requires travellers to be “fully vaccinated”, or provide a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to departure.

Check the latest information on the gov.uk website.

 

Changes in permission

If you plan to take your children abroad, and have shared parental responsibility with your ex-partner, you must seek their permission to take your children out of the country, even for just a short break. Taking children abroad without permission is child abduction in the eyes of the law.

If you have a Child Arrangement Order stating the children live with you, you are able to remove them from the country without permission for less than one month. After that time, you will need permission.

In shared care cases, there has to be full agreement between you. So, in the interests of co-parenting, we would always suggest you have detailed discussions. This is particularly important as, at time of writing, there are major disruptions to travel with major delays, cancelled flights and planned strike action by transport workers.

Your permission/consent should be set down in writing, as proof that everyone understands precisely what has and has not been agreed to. This should include:

  • Details of the holiday destination including street address
  • Contact details for all accommodation/s
  • A full itinerary of travel arrangements including flight numbers and times, departure and arrival airports, train times, etc.
  • Details of any planned holiday events that might require co-parental permission, such as scuba diving.

 

Changes to travel plans

If your ex has already given permission in writing for a holiday abroad, and your travel plans change in terms of dates, destination or duration, you’ll need to get their permission for the new changes.

So, at this time, it might prudent to include some “wriggle room” in the written permission allowing for changes in departure and return dates due to cancellations. You might also wish to include permission for any rebooked holiday during the summer period.

If you are going to spend the holidays in the UK, not abroad, you’ll need to inform your ex about these changes too. However, you don't need permission from your ex-partner to take your children on holiday in the UK.

We would also say in the interests of co-parenting at this time, parents should prioritise their children’s welfare by open discussions wherever possible, and respect people’s wishes about travel guidance.

Try not to become embroiled in tit for tat responses. Look at the bigger picture of allowing a child to enjoy a holiday abroad with the reassurance that the other parent is happy for them to be enjoying a holiday away. It also demonstrates that you both are taking a child centred approach.

Timescales for holidays: COVID testing

As mentioned before, as the holidaying parent, you may need to provide proof of full vaccination for yourself, and potentially for all your children.

If your destination requires a negative test result from a COVID-19 PCR (swab) test, or an antibody test, this should be included into the arrangement letter. It is important to budget for these, as private PCR tests currently cost a minimum of £100 each, and you may have to travel further to your nearest location to take the test. You usually need to provide negative test results for all those travelling, including children.

Testing will add time and cost to the holiday, potentially involving a much longer timeframe than your current child arrangements may cover. So, it would be wise, as co-parents, to add this in a new or existing child arrangement letter in general terms.

 

Holiday timescales: passports

Currently, if you are travelling on holiday to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, your child will need 6 months left on their passport from the day of travel. Requirements for other countries vary.

There is also an issue with expiry dates that has caught out families, in that many countries consider the expiry date of a passport to be 10 years from the date of issue. This can be different from the expiry date on the passport if you applied or a renewal with time left on the passport. In the UK, this might have been added to your passport expiry date, effectively making the passport appear valid for longer than 10 years.

In addition, at the time of writing, some parents are experiencing significant delays in child passport applications, whether a first passport or renewing an old one. According to a local Facebook parent group we follow, some child passports are coming back within the usual 2-3 weeks, but others have been stuck in the system for over three months.

According to the latest advice from HM Passport Office:

"Since April 2021 HMPO have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their British passport. This remains the case.

The vast majority of all passport applications are being dealt with well within 10 weeks. However, a passport can only be issued once all the checks have been completed satisfactorily and will take longer if applications are submitted with missing or incomplete information.”

So it is important to check long before your planned travel dates that all your passports will be valid for the required amount of time. For more details click here.

 

Need to make changes to an existing agreement?

If you have a child arrangement letter already in place, call us to discuss amending it. If you haven’t made child arrangements yet, contact us - there is still time.

 

Five benefits of a formal child arrangement agreement

1. A child arrangement letter cuts down the conversations required between you and your ex.

2. It avoids lengthy email exchanges or telephone calls where it’s all too easy to misunderstand what has been arranged and for when.

3. It is impartial and comes via a third party (us).

4. All your ex needs to do is reply in writing agreeing to the arrangements, and you’re ready to go.

5. Child arrangement agreements can be shown to border staff if required. (More on this below).

 

Travelling abroad? Take your letter with you

If you are travelling with children that do not share your surname, a child arrangement agreement is very useful to have if border staff wish to clarify their relationship to you. As the UK has officially left the EU, passport control procedures now vary across the EU and you may find yourself under closer scrutiny (and in a longer queue) than before.

Also remember that you will now need health insurance for yourself and the children, as your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) expired on 31 December 2020 when the UK exited the EU.

 

Court Orders for visits abroad

Your ex may decide not to give permission for you to take children abroad, just as you can refuse permission for them to do the same. In such a case, either parent can apply for a Specific Issue Order. This is a court order that determines a specific issue concerning Parental Responsibility.

The court will determine if the holiday or journey abroad is in the child’s best interests. A court is unlikely to rule against a visit to a country that is a member of the Hague Convention. However, it may rule against visits to other countries are not thought to be safe, which might include those with COVID-19 related restrictions.

Equally, you can apply for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order if there is a risk that your ex-spouse may not return the children back to the UK.

The focus of the court and all professionals involved will always be the welfare of the child/children. The view on precisely what that welfare consists of can be quite different between separated parents, and so a compromise will have to be reached. You may want to consider mediation to resolve the issue between you and reach that required compromise.

 

Child arrangement agreements by phone or Zoom

At LGFL, we aim to make it as easy as possible to access the legal advice and services you need, and so offer our full family law service remotely. The great advantage of remote services is that you don't need to travel to our offices, and virtual mediation means you don't need to meet your ex-partner in person to resolve differences if required.

Do feel free to phone us to discuss your requirements, or book your initial 1-hour reduced fee advice session. (For qualifying clients, T&Cs apply.)