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School’s Out for Summer: How to Handle the School Holidays as a Separated Parent


Despite it being a source of incredible excitement for most children, the school holidays can present many challenges for parents. These challenges can be particularly felt by separated parents where there are additional pressures and emotions to manage.

If you are a divorced or separated parent and you have a court order regarding the childcare arrangements for your child, it may not make specific provision for managing the school holidays. Plans can become more complex where it does not, or the parents have no court order in place. We consider the difficulties with taking your child abroad and how to handle childcare during the summer holidays below and provide some tips to help you navigate the next six weeks.

1. Taking your child abroad

Anyone who has “parental responsibility” for your child has a right to make decisions about your child’s life, this includes where they go on holiday. When a child is born, parental responsibility arises for the following people:

  • The child’s mother.
  • Anyone the mother is married to or in a civil partnership with (if the child was born after 2 December 2019).
  • The child’s father where he is unmarried but has been registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate.
  • Where someone has acquired parental responsibility through a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and files it at the Central Family Court or has obtained a court parental responsibility order.
  • The adoptive parent(s) once the adoption has been finalised.

Where there is a child arrangements order in place following the separation of a marriage, you may need the consent of anyone with parental responsibility before you can take your child abroad. It may come as a surprise but if you were to take your child abroad without the consent of all those with parental responsibility, it could be classed as child abduction, and you could be charged with a criminal offence.

You will not require this consent if your child arrangements order states that the child is to “live with” you, and the trip falls within your designated time. If this is the case, you can take a child abroad for up to 28 days without getting permission for the other parent. You may still need to check the terms of the court order, however, as it may still stipulate conditions before you can take the child abroad.

If you do require consent, it is best practice to get the other parent’s consent in writing (either in an email or letter) and take this with you when you travel. It may also be helpful to take evidence of your and your co-parent’s right to parental responsibility for your child with you to the airport. This could be in the form of a birth certificate or adoption papers, for example.

The level of documentation you may need could depend on the jurisdiction you are planning to take your child to. If you are concerned about this, then it would be wise to obtain legal advice before the trip to ensure you have no issues upon entry or when leaving the country.

If the consent is not forthcoming or is withdrawn at any time, you can apply to the court for permission to take your child abroad. This should be a last resort as court procedures can be time consuming, costly and can create more problems than they solve.

Where there is no child arrangements order in place, and you and your ex-partner have come to an informal arrangement about time spent with the child, both of you will need the consent of the other to take the child abroad if the other parent has parental responsibility to avoid the risk of child abduction.

2. Another parent wants to take your child abroad

It may be that you are concerned about a proposed holiday that your co-parent is taking your child on. This can be a worrying prospect for many parents, especially where you are unsure of the duration, location and who else may be on the holiday.

As discussed above, if you have parental responsibility and the other parent is infringing on your time seeing your child by taking them abroad, you will be able to refuse your consent to the child’s removal from the country. If you are still concerned that the other parent is going to take your children out of the country without your consent, you could inform the police or airport to ensure they are aware that the child may be taken without your consent. This is an extreme step but is one at your disposal if you are particularly concerned about the proposed trip.

Alternatively, you can apply to the court for either a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order to prevent the child’s removal from the country. But, as above, any court application takes time, costs both parties money they could be spending on the child and can cause animosity in any co-parenting relationship. Reaching a compromise on holidays may be the best option for you, the other parent, and your child.

3. Arranging additional childcare

The increased childcare commitments posed by the summer holidays can also cause tension for separated parents. If you have an equal split of parental care, some separated parents agree to be responsible for childcare on alternative weeks. Others split the holidays in half, so each have three weeks with their child. The latter tends to provide slightly more stability for the child, so it may be a more suitable arrangement.

During the holidays, you may need more child maintenance to pay for the additional childcare costs or need to rearrange the childcare arrangements to suit your work timetable. You should first look to agree to a change in the childcare arrangements between you and the other parent. If the other parent is either not cooperating with your proposal, or you want to ensure the updated arrangement applies to the summer holidays going forwards, could apply to the court to vary the order.

The court will only amend a child arrangements order where the circumstances have materially changed since the order was sealed. For instance, you have a new job that means you are less able to take care of your child on your designated days during the holidays. The courts will also consider whether the amendment is in the child’s best interests and decide on whether to implement the change accordingly.

If you have a court order, you will be aware of the slow court procedures and aware that making a court application and having it approved within the 6 weeks of the summer holidays may be difficult. Depending on the circumstances of your situation, this may be the only way to ensure you are well equipped for the various issues posed by the summer holidays in the future.

If you want more specific advice on the issues raised, or you have any questions about childcare arrangements, the Family Team at Winckworth Sherwood have a wealth of experience and would be happy to discuss your options.

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