At this point in time, many countries are off-limits due to a coronavirus travel ban. You may also need a justification to travel to other countries. But with the rules changing so quickly and so regularly, it may be the case that you are thinking about moving abroad or going on a long holiday with your children in the near future.
However, if you are separated from your children’s other parent, you may face more barriers than a coronavirus travel ban.
Taking children abroad – what are the rules?
Typically, both co-parents need to consent before one parent can take the children abroad for a long time.
A parent with a voluntary parenting plan cannot take the children overseas, either temporarily or permanently, without the consent of the other parent.
Anyone who has a Child Arrangements Order naming them as the person with whom the children should live most of the time can take the children abroad for up to one month. Any trips over one month long or permanent relocations must have the consent of the other parent.
If a parent takes their children abroad without the required consent, they could be held responsible for child abduction, which is a criminal offence.
Talking about international relocation in times of Covid-19
It is understandable for parents to be anxious about the risks of taking a child abroad when Covid-19 is still battering many countries around the world. Even if a travel corridor is open now, there is no guarantee that it will not close later on, potentially leaving the parent and children stranded abroad and cutting off access for the parent in the UK.
Travel bans and quarantine rules aside, it is important for co-parents to be on the same page when it comes to international relocation. If you want to take your children abroad, you should first get written permission from your co-parent. It may be necessary to compromise in order for them to provide their consent. For example, you may need to discuss:
- When you plan to travel
- Where you will be staying/living
- What precautions you will take to keep you and the children safe
- How you will arrange contact while living in different countries
- Do you need to self-isolate if you return to the UK, and how will this affect any pre-existing contact arrangements?
Both parents will need to be flexible in light of how fast the coronavirus rules and guidance change.
What if co-parents cannot agree about international relocation?
A specialist family law solicitor or family mediator can help you come to an agreement. These methods mean you can avoid court proceedings and all the stress and costs that tend to come with it.
However, if you still cannot agree, it is possible to make an application to family court for a Specific Issue Order. The court can then decide whether a parent can take a child abroad if the other parent does not agree. Any decision the judge makes will be in the best interests of the child.
The family courts are still open during this third Covid-19 lockdown. However, you may face delays, and there is no guarantee that the courts will be able to decide on the case before you need to travel. It is therefore worth getting legal advice before proceeding with court action.
Is Covid-19 taken into consideration during family court cases?
The Covid-19 pandemic can be a consideration in family court cases involving children. For example, it was a consideration in the case of F v M, reported in July 2020.
The basic facts of this case were: the father had lost his job in the United Arab Emirates due to coronavirus and applied to court for permission to relocate with his children to England.
However, the mother wanted to relocate the children to Brazil where she would apply for a UK visa and bring them to England at the start of the school term in September 2020.
There were a number of issues, including:
- The three children all reportedly had mental health issues
- The mother was accused of having issues with alcohol and that she hit the children while drunk (unproven)
- The mother was also accused of unnecessarily medicating the children with prescription drugs (unproven)
- The children did not speak much Portuguese
- The children also did not want to go to Brazil, particularly the oldest (‘P’) who was nearly 18 years old
Taking into account all the factors, the judge expressed concern that there would not be the right level of support available for the family in Brazil, particularly if the allegations about prescription medication were true. He said:
‘I do not have very much in front of me about what assistance the boys could have in Brazil, but what I do know, just from looking at the Government website today, is that Brazil is at a different stage of the Coronavirus pandemic from the one that we are in with "the fastest growing numbers of cases of any country in the world".
‘It seems to me that in circumstances where (a) the family will be separated, i.e. P not in Brazil (b) the difficulty I have just referred to about the pandemic and (c) no evidence that the children can have their mental health properly attended to in Brazil, I cannot possibly take the risk of this family going to Brazil.’
The judge therefore allowed the relocation in the interim (with the case coming back before the court in January 2021). He also encouraged the parents to proceed with mediation as soon as they come to England.
International relocation must be in the ‘best interests’ of the child
This case is a good example of how family court judges weigh up all the individual circumstances of a family’s case to make a decision that is in the best interests of the children involved.
This is because judges are legally required to put the welfare of the child first. There is a set of guidance called the welfare checklist that judges follow when making their decision:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding) – for example, in the above case, P was nearly 18 and did not want to move to Brazil. This was taken into account by the judge.
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs – for example, the children’s mental health issues were serious considerations for the judge in this case
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of theirs which the court considers relevant
- Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering – again, in the above case, the children’s mental health difficulties were a major factor, as was the mother’s alleged alcoholism, although this had not been proved
- How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs
- The range of powers the court has available to them
Do you need advice about going abroad with your children during Covid-19?
Whether you want to go on holiday or you are planning to permanently move overseas, if you have been affected by the issues in this article, get in touch with our friendly, practical children law solicitors for advice.
We have loads of experience helping families with international issues, and can help you work out a solution that puts you and your children’s happiness and welfare first.