02nd Sep 2020

Separated parents: holidays & quarantine

By Carla Ditz

Separated parents: holidays & quarantine

What are the rules – and what happens to your children?

 

The challenges facing separating and separated families as a result of Covid 19 continue to arise. Whilst the health of family and friends has been the priority, many relationships have been stretched to their limits, including the co-parenting relationship. A prime example is one parent’s decision to take the children abroad on holiday and how this might impact the other parent.

Once lockdown was lifted, many parents wanted to take their children abroad, whether to see family or simply to have that long-awaited summer holiday after a challenging few months at home. What happened shortly thereafter (perhaps inevitably) was the rise of the ‘second wave’ of cases abroad. The government began to put in place quarantine rules for those returning from countries not on the safe list. The disruption this causes may only become apparent on return (unless travel arrangements were cut short to avoid quarantine restrictions) when children who have travelled abroad with one parent would then have to self-isolate for the requisite period. Whether this means that the children would remain with the ‘holidaying’ parent instead of returning or having scheduled contact with the non-holidaying parent, or the children returning to (and quarantining with) the non-holidaying parent, aggravation and inconvenience is likely to be experienced. For some, this may well sour relations further in an already strained co-parenting relationship.

The start of the school year

 Fuelling the fire will be the fact that children are due to return to school. There will be an inevitable delay if that child has been abroad to a country on the quarantine list. For many children, this will be the first time back to school since the end of March when lockdown took full effect. It is entirely foreseeable however that there will be a number of children who will need to self-isolate on return from their holiday potentially overlapping with the start of the school term.

For those children who are not yet of school-age, holidays may indeed be planned over the coming months). The risk associated with travelling abroad and the potential for quarantine on return will no doubt give rise to difficult conversations but also legitimate concerns.

Do I need to ask my former partner if I want to take the children on holiday?

 Where both parents have parental responsibility for the children, there is no automatic right to take them abroad. There may be instances, however, where a parent need not obtain consent for travel – where for example, there is a Child Arrangements Order in place.

So, when might consent from the other parent not be needed?

  • If you have a court order specifically stating that you may take your child out of the jurisdiction (a ‘specific issue’ order)
  • If you have a court order under section 8 Children Act 1989 (a Child Arrangements Order) which states that the child lives with you – this means you can take your child abroad for up to 1 month without the consent of the other parent or permission from the court.

If neither of the above apply, then you will need to make sure you have permission from the other parent before travelling. (Whilst you shouldn’t assume that the other parent will withhold consent, they should still be consulted and informed of the travel plans as a written confirmation of consent may be required by immigration authorities –see our blog Taking children abroad over the Christmas Holidays? Your checklist)

On a practical level (and often to put the other parent’s mind at ease), you should provide them with details of your travel plans with your children such as flight details and where they will be staying. It is equally important to respect each parent’s time with the children and the stay-behind parent should avoid interfering with the holiday plans unless this becomes necessary. This of course works both ways as, in all likelihood, each parent will at some point wish to take the children abroad.

What can parents do if they disagree about foreign travel at this time?

 If you can’t agree whether the children should travel abroad between yourselves, you may need the help of others to reach agreement.

Going to court should be a last resort. A confrontational court-based process can in fact serve to polarise positions further and ultimately weaken the foundations of your ongoing parenting relationship instead of building upon it in a constructive way. Judges will always look to the parents to resolve disputes such as this away from the doors of the court and instead, encourage open and honest dialogue and if necessary, with the help of a solicitor, mediator or indeed an arbitrator. (In any event, there is a requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before a court application is issued, the purpose being to assess whether the case may be appropriate for mediation.)

Children arbitration is becoming increasingly popular as a forum to settle disputes which require a swift outcome. Alternatively, mediation can help parents to address specific disagreements that have arisen but it also offer parents a controlled environment to talk through communication issues in general. It also offers an opportunity to discuss how you will co-parent going forwards with a mediator present to support and aid this discussion. Much in the same way, counselling sessions are an effective way of talking through parenting issues and these sessions can provide both parents with the tools that will enable and promote a healthy and positive co-parenting relationship and prepare them for the future.

As with any contact arrangements concerning children, there will always be a need for an element of flexibility and an understanding that things don’t always go to plan. Keeping the lines of communication open will be key for parents.

Given the uncertainty surrounding foreign holidays and the changing quarantine restrictions, it may be acceptable to both parents to agree that all holidays for the foreseeable future should not be taken abroad to avoid any resulting quarantine issues associated with foreign travel. 

For more information on any of the issues discussed in this blog, please speak with one of our experienced family and divorce lawyers on 020 7420 5000 or email us at hello@flip.co.uk