When parents separate, the timing and nature of family holidays can be a source of conflict. If an issue of this nature arises, we will work hard to help you reach a child-focused, agreed solution. Alternatively, if a compromise is not possible, we will do everything in our power to reach the best possible resolution through the court process.
Things can become difficult if one parent wishes to take the children on holiday abroad and the other disagrees. It isn’t a viable option to “just go” because - subject to some exceptions - it is a criminal offence to take a child out of the country without the permission of everyone who has parental responsibility for them (usually the other parent). If someone has a “lives with” child arrangements order in their favour, they can take the relevant child(ren) abroad for up to one month without permission unless there is a court order saying otherwise.
Unless there are very good reasons to the contrary, the court will expect you to have attempted non-court dispute resolution, including mediation. We will support you in taking all possible steps to resolve the issue without the need for formal court intervention.
Sometimes, a court application is the only way to resolve the issue, and we have significant experience of helping parents navigate the particular issues that arise in relation to holiday disputes, including the need to ensure that costs remain proportionate.
In practice, disputes about holidays abroad often arise in the context of ongoing court proceedings about where a child should live and/or who they should spend time with and when. However, if there is a dispute on this single issue, it is important to recognise that it can take a long time to get to the final hearing stage, by which time the date of the holiday may have passed.
Whether the court can accommodate an application in time will depend on how busy the individual court centre is but you should be thinking in terms of making an application as soon as it becomes clear that an impasse has been reached, certainly several months before the holiday. It is sometimes possible for the court to make a decision on an urgent basis but there are huge pressures on court time and it is unlikely that a dispute can be decided in time unless there are exceptional circumstances - arbitration may provide a solution where time is critical.
If you are objecting to your child going on holiday and the dispute ends up in court, you need to consider carefully your reasons for objecting. The court is unlikely to stop the other parent taking a child on an ordinary holiday abroad unless there are genuine concerns for their wellbeing with that parent, real security fears about the chosen destination or a credible risk that the parent will not bring the child home as planned or use the holiday as a staging post to travel to another country.
Fears about non-return are more likely to be taken seriously if the country in question is not a functioning member of the Hague Convention on child abduction. This is an international treaty which obliges the legal systems of member states to cooperate in a fast track system for the return of children who have been wrongly removed or retained away from their home country.
A valid objection could be that the holiday is so long that it becomes an unacceptable interruption to one parent’s contact with their child. In such circumstances, the court might seek a compromise on the length of the stay but is unlikely to stop the holiday altogether without other concerns.
The court will decide any question regarding the upbringing of a child with that child’s welfare as its paramount consideration. To assist it in this process, the court has a statutory welfare checklist to ensure that the child’s welfare (or “best interests”) is considered from every angle. This includes matters such as the child’s age, their ascertainable wishes and feelings, any risk of harm, their background and relevant characteristics.
The court will read each parent’s witness statement, will usually hear them give evidence, and consider their arguments to arrive at a decision. Occasionally, the court may allow the holiday on condition that the departing parent pays a sum of money into a bank account that will be released upon the child’s return (a bond). It is also common for the court to insist on specific details of travel being provided in advance and, if necessary, to make orders regarding the return of travel documents upon return.