Written by Ruth Hawkins

This article was written by Ruth and her colleague Irena.

Ruth is a founding partner of Boardman Hawkins & Osborne LLP and is an experienced family solicitor, having been qualified for over 20 years, and member of the Law Society’s Children Panel, meaning that she specialises in public law children cases, involving social services, and complex children litigation. Ruth became a family mediator in 2012, and has qualified earlier this year to do child inclusive mediation

Irena Osborne is an experienced family practitioner and a founding partner of Boardman Hawkins & Osborne LLP. She has over 14 years’ experience representing parents in care proceedings, dealing with international family matters and dealing with family litigation in general. Her interests very firmly lie in representing victims of domestic abuse. She is a trustee of a domestic abuse charity FLAG DV.


May Half Term has just been and gone, and the long summer holidays will soon be upon us!

For many families, where parents are unmarried, or separated, this can mean a little more planning and thinking ahead.

Being stopped at passport control and asked to prove your child’s identity, or that you have parental responsibility and therefore the right to take them abroad, is far from uncommon.

Making enquiries before you travel and bringing extra documents might seem over the top, but will ensure that you don’t face any difficulty.

Why does this happen?

Child protection. The idea is to safe-guard against child abduction and child smuggling. Controls are getting tighter, and checks more frequent.

What can I do?

Don’t panic. Making enquiries before you travel and bringing extra documents might seem over the top, but will ensure that you don’t face any difficulty.

Before you leave you should:

  • Check with your airline – they deal with this daily and will have their own specific requirements.
  • Check with your embassy – what applies for British children does not apply for other nationalities, regardless of whether they are travelling into/from the UK.
  • Check with the relevant embassy for the requirements of country/countries you’ll be travelling to/through.
  • Ensure you have relevant documents: passports (yes, double check), birth certificates and marriage certificates. If you’re travelling under your maiden name with children of a different surname, a marriage certificate alongside your passport will ‘prove’ who you are.
  • Should your parenting arrangement have special terms regarding international travel, then double check with a solicitor to ensure you have the relevant supporting documents.
  • Pack a consent letter (see below).

Travel consent letters: what do I need?

Travel consent letters establish that the child or children in question have permission to travel abroad from the parent or guardians who aren’t accompanying them. They’re especially useful in situations in which the parents are divorced or separated, and one parent wishes to take the child on holiday. They can also be used by grandparents and other relatives.

Consent letters aren’t a legal requirement in the UK, but can simplify travel for UK nationals, as they may be requested by immigration authorities when entering or leaving a foreign country or when re-entering the UK.

The letter needs to be signed by the parent who is NOT travelling. Getting the letter witnessed by a solicitor or notary is recommended, as it’s more likely to be accepted as a legal document. You can do this at a local solicitor’s for a small charge.

Remember, carrying a consent letter does not guarantee that children will be allowed to enter or leave a country; every country has its own entry and exit requirements. Double-check with the relevant embassies for specifics.

Example consent letter

The letter should give as much detail as possible, including:

  • contact details for the person giving consent
  • the child’s passport details and/or any other documentation you are providing
  • information about the trip they are going on – date of travel and planned destination

The letter should be signed, dated and witnessed.

What if I can’t contact the father of my children?

If you both share parental responsibility for your children, then you should have his permission before you travel overseas. He will also need yours should the roles be reversed.

You’ll need to apply to a court for permission to take a child abroad if you don’t have permission from the other people with parental responsibility. A solicitor will be able to help you with this process. Please don’t leave this to the last minute. It will take time, and the courts are under huge pressure now, and may struggle to list your application in time, so if this is a problem, seek urgent legal advice.

Sadly the father/mother of my child passed away and my child has a different surname from me. What should I do?

Double check with the airline and relevant embassies, but bringing the death certificate with you along with birth certificates and marriage certificates, and that should be enough.

What about foster/adoptive parents?

Take a copy of a court order stating that the accompanying person is the child’s lawful guardian. Again, as ever, double check with the airline and relevant embassies.

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