In cases where the separated parents live in different countries, flight cancellations or similar issues can present significant challenges to child arrangements. For example, if one parent lives in London and the other in Italy, if flights are cancelled, then it could be very difficult for the child to spend time with the other parent during term time on a weekend as flights frequently cannot be rebooked for the following day. Things may be easier during holidays, as generally, the blocks of time the child will be in each parents’ care are longer, so if there is a delay of a day or so, the child will still be able to see that parent.
However, their time will still be curtailed, which is a shame and it may not be made up in lieu. It also creates further financial burden to re-book for the parent, who, depending on the child’s age, may be flying with them. Matters become even trickier when distances increase, as long-haul flights are very expensive and if cancelled, very expensive to re-book.
During the pandemic, this was something we saw time and time again with our clients, who were desperate to see their children, but were restricted by limited flights, quarantine restrictions and slow vaccination paperwork.
This summer, the challenge is that airports are struggling to cope with post-pandemic holiday demand, resulting in chaos at the airports, luggage being lost, flights being cancelled last minute and flight availability being cut. International families will have to work hard together to surmount these issues to ensure that the children, who are the heart, can still spend plenty of quality time with both of their parents.
But if a parent is concerned that the other may be an abduction, or retention, risk then there are options.
If both parents have a ‘lives with’ Child Arrangements Order, they do not need each other’s consent to take the child out of the UK for a period of up to 28 days during the time the child is scheduled to be with them. However, if the other parent is worried that they may wrongfully retain the child abroad and has evidence to suggest that they will, they may apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent that trip going ahead.
If parents do not have a ‘lives with’ order or provisions within a Child Arrangements Order establishing that they may travel internationally with the child, they will need to seek the other parent’s permission to travel, if that travel is not agreed
It is also vital that the parent who will not be travelling makes clear in writing to the other parent how long a trip they consent to, so that if the travelling parent overstays that timeframe, there is a clear record that this was not agreed.
If consent is not given, the parent wanting to travel will need to apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order for permission to take the child to that country.
At that juncture, it may be appropriate for the other parent to seek measures such as travel may only take place in Hague Convention signatory countries, so that if the child is wrongfully retained, in theory, there is a prompt and effective remedy to secure the child’s return.
Alternatively, if the parent wishing to travel has UK assets such as property, the other parent may seek security in the form of a financial bond over those assets, to provide them with a fighting fund for legal fees in the event that the child is not returned. The value of the bond will need to be high enough (the level will depend on the wealth of the parent providing the bond) so as to provide significant financial incentive to the parent seeking to travel to return, as that would be assets they would immediately lose if they failed to bring the child back.
Any international travel, whether consented to or within the bounds of a Child Arrangements Order, or ordered by the court, should always involve the travelling parent providing the remaining parent with copies of the child’s return flight tickets, accommodation booking details and their contact details.