The six-week summer holiday can fill separated parents with dread at the best of times. And this, it’s fair to say, is not the best of times.
Along with the usual considerations of who will take the kids and when, COVID-19 is adding an extra layer of complexity to proceedings.
Travelling abroad during a pandemic
Legally, your parental rights regarding taking your child on holidays abroad have not changed. The term ‘parental responsibility’ essentially encompasses a parent’s rights, duties and obligations to a child. If you both have parental responsibility, but no court order is in place, then neither one of you is allowed to take your child abroad without the other parent’s consent.
If a court has mandated that your child should reside with you (e.g. via a residence order or a child arrangements order), then you are allowed to take your child abroad for 28 days without your ex-partner’s consent.
So far, so good. But the difficulties presented by coronavirus aren’t necessarily legal. For example, if your ex-partner still wants to take your child on a planned holiday, and you have serious reservations about safety, this could create tension. For example, new quarantines are being imposed as holiday destinations suffer renewed outbreaks; if the rules change and your ex-partner and child end up having to self-isolate when they return, this could seriously disrupt your child arrangements.
Even if you don’t require your ex-partner’s consent, it’s important to try to understand their concerns and alleviate these where possible. Everybody has reacted to the pandemic in different ways, and it’s important to give consideration to any concerns that may arise. Providing as many details as possible about your holiday may help to reassure them, particularly if there is information available on what the hotel or accommodation provider is doing to remain COVID-secure.
Now it’s the summer holidays, childcare support for the children of key workers has mostly ended. Meanwhile, as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme begins to wind down, many parents are finding themselves going back to work, just when their need for childcare is greatest. At the same time, friends and relatives that you may have previously relied on to provide holiday childcare may be unable to, due to social distancing or shielding.
Again, negotiation and discussion with your co-parent will be key to getting through the summer holidays intact. Your child’s physical and mental health and wellbeing should be at the core of your decisions, so deciding, for example, that your child should spend the majority of the summer with the other parent if you have greater work commitments may be the best option, however hard it may be. Meanwhile, it is also worth exploring the virtual options that have sprung up to keep children entertained over the holidays, including online activities and classes that enable your child to enjoy safe social interaction (if you work remotely).
What if we can’t agree?
If you are experiencing difficulties in reaching an agreement with your ex-partner or spouse regarding childcare or holiday arrangements, then it’s important to seek specialist legal advice in the first instance. If you withhold consent for a holiday or trip without discussing it with your ex-partner or a legal professional first, you could end up embroiled in a court battle that will impact your child’s enjoyment of their summer holidays.
A trained Family Law solicitor will be able to intervene and liaise with your ex-partner on your behalf, in a calm and controlled manner. Or, they could refer you both to an independent mediator, who may be able to facilitate an agreement between you.