Travelling If Your Child Has a Different Surname

Jan 04, 2023   ·   6 minute read
Mom playing with her child outdoors in sunlight

Every time you stand in a queue at the airport do you tense up, worried about whether you will be challenged by an official over your paperwork, luggage or children? It is a particular concern if your children’s surname is different to your own. For example, if your ex-partner registered the children using her surname or if you reverted to using your maiden name after your divorce.

In this article, our family law solicitors look at the issues that can arise when travelling with your children if their surname is different to yours.         

For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.

Why do issues arise when travelling with children whose surnames are different to yours?

You may think that an official is just being difficult but border officials, passport control, and airport and ferry staff are all trained to look out for children travelling with adults who do not share the surname of the children they are accompanying. It is a red flag for potential child abduction or child trafficking – although all you want to do is take your children to Spain for a much-earned break.

It is easy to get angry when you are questioned about your children, especially when you are already stressed out by airport delays or if your toddler is having a tantrum. When your child looks like the spitting image of you then it is hard to bite back on a cutting reply and easy to get into an argument that can unravel into your family not being able to travel.

As family law solicitors working with parents worried about potential child abduction and trying to recover abducted children from abroad, the careful approach taken by some UK and overseas border officials and travel staff is in many ways very welcome. However, family solicitors do share the frustration experienced by some UK families about the lack of consistent international rules on the paperwork needed to travel with a child either as a family, a single parent, a relative or a nanny. The difference in regulations between countries can catch out the unwary parent and ruin a planned trip.

It isn’t just single, separated or divorced parents who need to be careful. If you are a grandparent, whose surname is different to that of your grandchild, and you are taking your child abroad on holiday then you may encounter the same issues.

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A cautionary tale

For those who question if travelling with a child is an issue our family law solicitor, Louise Halford, has first-hand experience of the difficulties. She tried to help a dad take his daughter on holiday to South Africa. He had arrived at the airport check-in desk without appreciating that as he was flying to South Africa on his own with his daughter, he would need a legal affidavit as well as extra paperwork. She happened to be at the next check-in desk and offered to help with the legal document and his wife rushed down with extra paperwork to try and make sure that her daughter could go on the planned trip. Sadly, all their efforts didn’t work out as the family only had their daughter’s short-style birth certificate.

If an affidavit is needed so a child can go abroad with a parent then there must be enough time for all the paperwork to be obtained before the affidavit is sworn.

What paperwork is needed if you are travelling overseas and your children have a different surname?

The exact documents you need depend on the country you are travelling to. Whilst you may not be challenged to produce additional documents in the UK you may be asked for additional paperwork when you are trying to enter another country or leave it to return to the UK.

As a general rule, to safeguard yourself and in case of officials not taking your word about your relationship with your children, it is best to take birth certificates for yourself and the children, copies of any change of name deed and marriage certificate (for example, if you reverted to your maiden name after your divorce) and evidence that the child’s other parent agrees to the trip. If you couldn’t get the other parent’s written consent, and instead had to apply to the court to obtain a holiday order, then take the order with you. If the court has awarded you a child arrangement order it is sensible to take a copy of that order as well.

Do I need the other parent’s consent to take the children out of the UK?

If you are not travelling with your child’s other parent, you may need their written consent or a court order to legally take your child abroad.

Whether you need the other parent’s written agreement depends on if your child lives with you and if you have a child arrangement order that says you are the parent with care. If so, you don’t need written consent or a holiday court order provided your overseas holiday is for 28 days or less.

If you fall in the category of the child arrangement order covering your trip it is sensible to take the order with you. If you aren’t sure if your child arrangement order says your child lives with you ( the wording on court orders can be rather confusing) speak to a family law solicitor about whether you need written consent or a holiday order.

If you don’t have a child arrangement order, or the order just sets out the contact arrangements with your child, then you need written agreement from the other parent (or anyone else with parental responsibility) or a holiday court order.

From a family law solicitor’s perspective, parents should be prepared to answer questions when travelling overseas with their children, especially when the children have a different surname to you, and should check the:

  • The paperwork you need to take with you and
  • The rules in the country you are travelling to and the documents you may need there

For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.