Pam Douglas is a solicitor with Brixton firm Wainwright & Cummins. Each month, she takes a common legal issue and asks colleagues to explain it for readers
Travelling with minor children – when you need consent
As the school summer holidays begin, many families are planning overseas trips, but it is increasingly common for one or both parents to stay at home, perhaps due to illness, relationship breakdown, work, finance or other constraints, or because children are spending leisure time in the care of extended family or friends
In response to the growing incidence of international child abduction and trafficking, immigration officials in many countries will not allow minor children (usually under 18) to enter without the written consent of both parents or legal guardians (ie all those with parental responsibility), even if the child in question lives with just one of them.
In such cases, a formal Letter of Consent is demanded that authorises the accompanying adult to make the trip. My colleague, Robert Wood, is a Notary Public and assists with such matters on regular basis, particularly at this time of year:
The Letter of Consent must be authenticated and certified by a Notary Public (not just any solicitor). This is because the authority of a Notary Public stretches world-wide whilst a solicitor’s authority is only valid within England and Wales. The Notary will witness the consent-giving adult’s signature, confirm their identity and place an official seal on the document.
The Letter of Consent need not be complicated and indeed, the simpler it is, the better. But it needs to be specific as to the nature and duration of the trip, who the child will be traveling with and where they will be staying. It can also include contact details of the non-traveling parent as well as any important medical needs relating to the child.
A template letter can be downloaded free of charge from the UK Home Office as well as the websites of most foreign embassies, major airlines and travel agents. But you should always check the requirements for the particular country your child will be visiting, as they can vary.
Such a document will often also be required if the travelling child’s last name is different from that of the accompanying adult, whether or not they are the parent. In such circumstances, it is wise to also carry birth, adoption, marriage and divorce certificates and any other paperwork which will assist in clarifying the relationship.
You should bear in mind that proof of consent can be requested at both ends of the journey and any transit stops in between. Without it, there is a risk that travel will be delayed or denied, sometimes necessitating the intervention of the authorities.
Once you have your notarised consent, you should ensure that your child and the named chaperone each carry one and keep it somewhere safe throughout the period of travel.
Where parents are separated or divorced it will sometimes be the case that consent from the “other parent” is refused. It might then be necessary to make a “specific issue” application to the Court for an Order under Children Act 1989. This should be done well in advance of the proposed travel dates, to allow sufficient time for a court hearing to be scheduled.
You can do this yourself or instruct a family solicitor to make an application on your behalf. It will generally be granted if there are no parental competence issues, travel is for a short duration and to one of the countries signed up to the Hague Convention, (as there are legal arrangements between signatories that can be enforced in case of abduction). However, ultimately, the Court’s decision will be based on the welfare of the child and not the convenience of the parents.
Once obtained, the Court Order should also be notarised to give it international validity.
It is worth remembering that Notaries Public are authorised to authenticate any document that needs to be presented overseas, and their signatures and seals are registered with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, enabling global verification.
Finally, do please check your child’s school term dates and speak with with the head teacher, if necessary, before booking your travel, as any unauthorised absence (due to a late return, for instance) can result in a hefty financial penalty from the local council with no right of appeal.
Feel free to get in touch if you would like advice on this or any other legal issue: email@example.com