Just when you thought that the rules for returning travellers to the UK were about to ease, it was announced at 11pm last night that France, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Aruba and the Turks and Caicos Islands will be removed from the ‘Travel Corridor’ from 4am on 15 August 2020. Anyone travelling from these countries back to the UK will need to self-isolate in accordance with the Government’s 14 day Quarantine rule.
The Government has advised against ‘all but essential’ travel, exempting, however, destinations (known as the ‘Travel Corridor’) that are no longer thought to pose an unacceptably high risk for British travellers. There is differing Guidance depending on whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The situation is further complicated if travelling abroad as it depends on the holiday destination. For example, if you were to travel to Spain with your children you would now need to self-isolate for 14 days on your return to the UK, but travelling with children to Greece does not require a 14 day Quarantine period.
With record temperatures in the UK this year and the fact that anyone even travelling via these countries will be caught by the Government announcement, it is no surprise that the staycation is certainly something that some separated parents are now choosing instead.
The changing rules of Quarantine and Travel Corridors adds to the already growing list of things to be added to the pre-holiday checklist for separated parents. Ideally, separated parents should always try to agree travel arrangements well in advance of any holiday:
In certain circumstances, removing a child from the jurisdiction without obtaining the other parent’s consent, or in defiance of the other parent’s objection, could constitute Child Abduction.
Authorisation to travel
As mentioned above, permission to travel abroad with a child should be sought from anyone who has Parental Responsibility*.
It is not necessary to obtain such consent if you are named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child shall live (a “lives with Order”) and you take the child out of the UK for a period of less than 1 month (providing this is not in breach of any specific prohibition within the Order). An objection to a specific trip, however, could still be made by the other parent.
Also bear in mind that certain countries have their own strict regulations about evidencing a sole parent’s right to travel with children, even to the extent of requiring a Statutory Declaration in some jurisdictions.
No one could have anticipated the continuing disruption on travel plans and holidays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents have had and may continue to have concerns about their child travelling abroad and the possibility of their child being exposed to the virus. The Government have plainly stated that, “Developments in the coronavirus pandemic remain uncertain around the word. No travel is risk-free.”
Whilst a parent may be within their rights to refuse permission for their child to travel to certain destinations abroad given the current climate, a parent should be genuinely motivated by concerns for the child’s welfare, not spite. For example, a parent may argue that permission should be refused on the basis that the Covid-19 infection rate is particularly high in a certain country (or region) or, even if the infection rate at the destination was low at the time of travel, the situation could change almost instantly and prevent the child from returning home to the UK due to lockdown in that particular country.
Whilst there are parents taking advantage of the Travel Corridor, which at the time of writing include many European destinations such as Germany, Greece and Italy, there still remains the risk (as we saw last night in relation to France and others) that these countries could suddenly fall within the 14 day Quarantine rule. It is estimated by the Foreign Office that there are some 50,000 British people currently on holiday in France who will be caught by the Government’s announcement that France will be removed from the Travel Corridor. A child may now be unable to start their next pre planned and agreed holiday with the other parent if the child is returning from a country which then becomes subject to the 14 quarantine rule whilst away. The other parent’s plans, which may have been agreed and arranged months in advance, may have to be cancelled. In a case where a child is returning from abroad and has to Quarantine, there is a real possibility that the usual contact arrangements would not be able to resume with the other parent depending on the circumstances of each household.
With the return to school, a cautious parent will want to ensure that 14 days are available after the holidays to allow Quarantine before school, so as not to miss the start of term after months away from real time schooling.
It is not inconceivable that an Application could be made to the Court to stop the child from travelling abroad on the basis of risk of infection or this uncertainty on Quarantine and the Travel Corridor countries. Each case will depend on its own facts and the Court has a wide discretion in such cases. Urgent Hearings on such matters are still regularly taking place in those cases where parents are unable to reach an agreement.
* Section 3 of the Children Act 1989, Parental Responsibility means having all the, “rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. This is particularly important as each parent will have the same and equal rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities, which can, at times, result in a conflict of rights if one parent wishes to take their child abroad and the other parent does not agree.
A child’s parents will automatically acquire Parental Responsibility if they are married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born. In cases where a child’s father and mother were not married to each other or civil partners at the time of the child’s birth, the mother automatically has Parental Responsibility for the child. On the other hand, the most usual ways for a father to “acquire” Parental Responsibility are by, for example: