With the school holidays upon us, families are grabbing the opportunity to travel. This comes of course after months of restricted movement and separation from friends and relatives. For many, the urge to get away is irresistible.
Not everyone is enthusiastic, though. Holiday plans can cause problems for separated parents in normal times, but COVID-19 has added a challenging dimension. Concerns about the coronavirus continue to keep some people at home or close to home, and this is proving to be a source of dispute between separated parents. Where one wants to take their child on holiday, but the other parent is not comfortable with that, the situation can quickly become acrimonious and difficult to resolve.
In recent weeks I have been asked many times to advise on the ‘rights and wrongs’ of one parent’s plan to take their child away on holiday. But these are very rarely right and wrong scenarios. Where a parent has booked a week’s holiday with their child then, as long as that is within the scope of the contact arrangement that is in place, the only question should be: would the holiday be in the child’s best interests?
That may sound straightforward enough, but separated parents sometimes have opposing views when it comes to their child’s welfare. Parents’ own wants and needs also quite naturally get factored in, and this can further muddy the waters.
An early conversation about a proposed holiday is so important. I have seen huge amounts of stress caused to families where holiday plans have been kept secret until the last minute, with no time for discussion and for any concerns to be alleviated. In some situations, there have had to be last-minute dashes to court to ask a judge to decide whether the trip should happen or not.
I don’t want the holiday to go ahead
Travelling in the current climate is causing some parents a great deal of concern. Would there be a lot of public transport involved? Would the risk of catching the coronavirus be too high? You may not want your child to travel to a place that has seen a recent spike in cases, or one that has experienced a soaring rate of infection in the past. Some clients are also telling us they’re worried that the parent who has arranged the holiday would be lax when it comes to social distancing, hand washing and general hygiene. Those concerns are likely to be heightened where the child, or someone they would be in contact with, is vulnerable.
Think very carefully about whether your objection to the holiday is a preference (‘I’d just rather our daughter stayed at home with me’), or if there is a genuine reason – one based on the child’s best interests – why you think the trip should not go ahead. Objecting for objection’s sake is likely to be seen as unreasonable by the other parent and could worsen relations and even lead to similar behaviour by them in the future. However, it’s important to speak up if you think your former partner’s plans are a welfare concern.
Can I stop the holiday happening?
Where the holiday is in the UK, there may be little that could be done to prevent it from going ahead (assuming the plans are all lawful and in line with the contact arrangements). Your best bet would be to try to discuss your concerns with the other parent and see if you could come to some arrangement that you’re both comfortable with. Obviously, if you have a particular concern about your child’s welfare, you should speak with your solicitor urgently.
There is greater scope to object to a foreign holiday. That is because, as long as there is no Child Arrangements Order or other relevant court order in place, everyone with parental responsibility for a child must agree to him or her being taken out of the country. Without that consent, there would need to be an application to the court to ask for permission for the holiday to go ahead as planned. As ever, the best interests of the child would be the decisive factor.
As with any issue between separated parents, the ideal scenario is for it to be talked through and for compromise to be reached without having to involve third parties like mediators or the courts (or even Family lawyers like me). For many former couples, that may seem impossible, but my advice is to try. And then try some more.
And with that, here are my top three tips:
- Get in there early. Whether you are the one proposing the holiday or the one objecting to it, be open and upfront with your former partner. And do this in plenty of time to ask for the court’s help if need be.
- Manage the dynamic; you will know how your former partner is likely to behave and respond. Try to handle the conversations in as constructive a way as possible.
- Don’t take too legalistic an approach. Even if you know you’re on firm legal ground, see if there is a way of getting an outcome that everyone is happy with.
For any advice about issues with your former partner, or specifically to do with holidays, please get in touch.
01892 337 542