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Separated Parents & Foreign Travel

child law travel

Travelling abroad with children this summer?

The school holidays are here and many of us are thinking about travelling abroad with our children over the next few weeks. For separated parents and those within ‘blended’ families, overcrowded airports and travel restrictions aren’t the only concerns when making your holiday plans. This is especially true if your surname is different from your dependent children.

The increase of ‘blended’ families and couples choosing not to marry means it is not unusual for a parent to have a different surname to their dependent children. According to the latest published Office for National Statistics (ONS) Families & Household Survey data, in 2021 there were 19.3 million families in the UK: 12.7 million married or civil partner couple families with 3.6 million cohabiting couple families and 3 million lone parent families.

What defines a dependent child?

The legal definition of a dependent child is any person aged 0 to 15 in a household (whether or not in a family) or a person aged 16 to 18 in full-time education and living in a family with his or her parent(s) or grandparent(s).

With the growing number of cohabiting couple families in the UK, the ONS data shows that there has been a continual increase in the number of families where dependent children have different surnames to at least one of their parents.

Could I be prevented from travelling if my child has a different surname?

Now that many of the COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted, many families are cautiously planning holidays abroad. The UK’s airports and seaports are busy again with families of every kind, but many people are unaware of the problems adults and children having different surnames can cause when travelling abroad together.

Security staff are under increasing pressure to check the safety and identity of children travelling through the UK. Parents will be stopped at security checks and asked questions to establish their relationship with their children. Depending on how those questions are answered, some families may be turned away and their holiday plans ruined.

What documents might I need to produce?

Irrespective of the nature of their relationship, it is wise for parents to make the process as straightforward as possible by making sure they have the right documents to hand.

Much depends on your particular circumstances but Home Office guidance advises that, when going abroad with children, you should carry evidence that confirms the nature of your relationship. This can include:

• a certified copy of a birth or adoption certificate which illustrates your relationship with the children;
• divorce papers or marriage certificates if you are the parent but have a different surname;
• if there is a child arrangements order in place, which sets out who the children are to live with, it is advisable to have a copy of the order together with their travel documents.

The right documents for separated parents or grandparents

Separated parents or grandparents travelling alone with dependent children would be best advised to obtain a signed letter from the children’s parent(s) authorising the children to travel with the adult(s). The letter should state that the children are permitted to travel abroad with them and should include the parent(s) contact details. It is also advisable to attach a copy of their passport to the letter.

Foreign travel with children can be stressful in itself. To help minimise the risk of an even more stressful experience, best practice no matter what your family circumstances would be to simply contact the airline or travel company beforehand to explain your situation and ask what they require from you.

Further advice

We are specialists in private children matters. If you have any questions about the issues mentioned here or any other related family law matters, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our experienced family solicitors are available to help.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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