With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, many families are making plans for summer travel. Although most travel has been domestic since 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, these limitations have largely been lifted or considerably eased in recent months. As a result, more families may be planning to visit international destinations. However, travelling across borders with minor children is complicated when both parents are not present. Due to concerns regarding international abduction, immigration and border authorities in Canada and around the world are increasingly on the lookout for potential red flags when children are not accompanied by both legal parents.
This is a regular consideration for parents who are separated or divorced. When planning a trip, especially one outside of Canada, it is best to be prepared to avoid last-minute problems or delays at the border or the airport. For parents who share access or decision-making authority over their children with a former spouse or partner, there are a number of factors to think about before embarking on a trip with a child, well in advance of arriving at the airport or the border. Below, we will address some common issues parents who share parenting time with their children should consider before planning trips with their children this summer.
The first step a co-parent should take before booking hotel accommodations or airline tickets is to review any existing parenting orders or agreements to see if there are any possible impediments to travel. In shared parenting arrangements, the separation agreement or court order may only set out the ordinary access schedule and not address deviations from the plan to accommodate issues such as travel. For example, if the child usually stays with one parent Monday through Friday, and the other parent on weekends, a trip lasting for several days will likely impact this plan. If this is the case, the parent wishing to travel might offer an alternative temporary arrangement to make up for the time the child will be away by allowing more time with the other parent before leaving or after returning.
Whether the trip will necessitate a deviation from the standard parenting arrangement or not, it is important that the travelling parent obtain the other parent’s consent early on. If the other parent objects and refuses to discuss possible options, it may become necessary to seek out a court order granting permission for the travel, which can take time.
The Canadian government recommends that all parents obtain and carry with them a written consent letter from the other parent before travelling outside of Canada with a minor child. This will help to avoid unnecessary delays at the border or the airport, both when departing and returning to Canada. A consent letter should be obtained from the non-travelling parent whether they share decision-making authority over the child or simply have some form of access to the child.
The letter should be detailed enough to indicate the consenting parent is fully aware of the travel plans. While it may be tempting to obtain a ‘blanket’ consent letter that can be used for multiple trips, the lack of detail may pose a problem for authorities. In addition, a consent letter that is undated or signed too far in advance may not be considered acceptable.
The contents of the letter will vary depending on the situation, but in general, it is recommended that the following information be included:
It is recommended that the consenting parent sign the letter in the presence of a notary public to reduce the chances that the letter’s authenticity will be questioned by authorities. The travelling parent should carry the original, notarized letter with them rather than an electronic copy if possible. The Government of Canada provides a template for a travel consent letter for parents to use; however, if the travel plans are extensive, it may be necessary to write a lengthier document.
While the consent letter and possibly a copy of the parenting order or separation agreement will generally be sufficient for Canadian authorities, parents should also be sure to check the requirements of their destination country to ensure they meet those as well. This can be especially important if the child, or one of their parents, holds citizenship in the other country. For example, the Government of Canada notes that children who have dual citizenship in Canada and Costa Rica will be required to provide a legally certified consent letter, translated into Spanish, and a special permit from Costa Rican authorities to depart the country. To find out the requirements of your destination country, it is best to contact that country’s embassy or consulate in Canada.
If the non-travelling parent has been denied a right to any parenting time or decision-making authority with respect to the child, it is not necessary to obtain their consent prior to travel. However, the parent travelling with the child should carry a copy of the court order stating that the other parent’s consent is not required to show immigration and border authorities. If the other parent’s whereabouts are unknown, the travelling parent should obtain a court order saying as much and indicating that the absent parent’s consent is not required for travel.
At Mincher Koeman, we practice family law exclusively. Our divorce lawyers have represented clients in all types of matters regarding decision-making ability and parenting time, ranging from amicable to high conflict. We will provide each client with a full picture of their rights and obligations concerning the care of their child or children and provide experienced advocacy in court if necessary. We have built our practice to ensure that each client receives first-rate client service and will always be sure to steer clients towards the most efficient resolution of their matter, keeping costs down whenever possible. To discuss your matter with a family lawyer, contact our firm by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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