With the summer holidays fast approaching, parents everywhere are starting to prepare for their biggest juggle of the year.
Arranging six or more weeks of childcare, carefully balanced with work commitments – and perhaps even fitting in a foreign holiday – can take its toll on family units. And the difficulty can be even greater for divorced or separated parents. Aside from disruption to the day-to-day and week-to-week routine of scheduled contact between each parent and their children, the holiday season poses one distinct challenge: can two parents agree that one may take the children abroad without the other?
For either parent to lawfully take their children overseas, they must have the consent of everyone else who has parental responsibility for those children. It is usually the case that a child’s two parents hold parental responsibility. And while it might seem straightforward enough to ask the question of your ex-partner, and to get their agreement to you taking your children away, frequently it isn’t.
So, here are some suggestions about how best to handle the issue of consent to take children abroad, whichever parent you are.
- Don’t delay
Let your ex-partner know about your holiday plans as soon as possible. One reason for acting quickly is to avoid a clash of dates, with both of you having earmarked the same week for a summer holiday. Another reason is that if the other parent objects, you will need time to talk everything through with them and see if this leads to them eventually giving their consent.
You’ll also need enough time to go through a process of mediation or, if it comes to it, to apply to court for permission in the event that your ex simply will not consent. The last thing you will want is to be forced to change your plans at the last minute, or even to abort the holiday. (In fact, I advise clients not to place firm bookings until they have the other parent’s unequivocal, and preferably written, consent to the trip.)
- It’s about the children
When things get difficult during or after the separation or divorce process, it’s easy to forget that at the centre of it all are young people who are being shaped by the things that are happening around them. I see it every day. Parents, quite understandably, get caught up in all sorts of disagreements and entrenched positions stemming from the relationship and the break-up. And I know that this is easy to say (and far more difficult to do) but try to bring things back to what really matters. In the case of a family that no longer lives together, it’s about the children; they have to be the priority.
Don’t lose sight of that. You might have valid reasons for not wanting your former partner to take your children on holiday, and those concerns should not be brushed aside (ask me to help). There may be logistical reasons why your children should not go – perhaps they would be missing another significant family event, for example. But if you are withholding consent for any other reason, including that you just don’t want the holiday to happen, my advice to you would be to think about things from your children’s perspective. As long as you are content that they would be in safe hands and would benefit from the experience, should you really be looking to deny them the opportunity?
- Be open about your plans
Give your ex-partner as much information as possible about: (a) the departure and arrival dates and times; (b) where you will be staying; (c) who else is going with you; (d) what you plan to do while abroad; and (e) how and when your ex-partner will be able to contact your children while you’re away.
This will enable your ex to feel included in your plans, and to place trust in you. Concealing details – for example, that your new partner will also be joining you – is unlikely to work in your favour in the long-term, and it could well lead to the souring of your relationship with your ex.
- Be accommodating
If you are the parent whose consent is being sought, think carefully about how you should handle your ex-partner’s request. You never know when you might need him or her to cooperate with your plans at some future point.
That’s one reason to be accommodating. Another is that it’s just generally good if you and your ex can work together on things that are in the best interests of your children. Again, it’s easier said than done in many cases. But give it a go. If you are not happy with the proposed plans, there is nothing to stop you adding a few reasonable provisos. For example, you might consent to the holiday on the understanding that the children sleep in the same hotel room as your ex, rather than staying in an adjoining room.
- Choose wisely
We all want our children’s experiences of the world to be wide-ranging and fulfilling, but it won’t usually be a good idea – particularly perhaps in the early days following a divorce or separation – to suggest a holiday in a volatile country or in a place that you know your ex-partner has particular reservations about.
Think about an easier option, by which I mean a holiday that poses as few potential risks as possible. You are far more likely to get your ex-partner’s consent to this, and you’ll be building a successful track record of solo-holidaying that should stand you in good stead for more happy times – and adventures – in years to come.