The winter season is upon us, and March Break is just around the corner, which means many Ontarians are planning vacation travel plans.
We’ll explain travel consent letters, how they work, and what parents should know about using them when travelling with their children. We’ll also touch on the risks associated with international travel and what parents can do to protect themselves if they have concerns about another parent travelling outside the country with their child.
What is a Travel Consent Letter?
A travel consent letter is a document signed by one or both parents granting their consent for their child to travel with the other parent (or another person).
Travel consent letters are commonly used by separated parties (for example, where one parent intends to take the child or children on holiday). Still, they may also be needed in the following scenarios:
- Where the parents are not separated or divorced, but only one parent is travelling with a child (this is especially important if the child does not have the same last name as the parent they are travelling with);
- Where the child is travelling with both parents but will be returning to Canada with only one parent;
- Where the child is travelling with a relative (for example, a grandparent) or
- Where the child is travelling with unrelated parties (for example, if the child is travelling out of the country on a school trip).
What Does a Travel Consent Letter Do?
A travel consent letter provides border authorities with evidence of a parent or parents’ consent for their child to travel out of the country with another person.
Contrary to popular belief, travel consent letters are not legally required for cross-border travel—though they may be requested by immigration authorities when entering or leaving a foreign country. Therefore, preparing a travel consent letter is prudent whenever your child travels without both parents.
It’s equally important to remember that travel consent letters aren’t legally binding. Possessing a travel consent letter doesn’t guarantee that a child will be allowed entry into another country without their parents.
What Information Should a Travel Consent Letter Contain?
Technically, there aren’t any requirements for what information should be contained in a travel consent letter (though plenty of sample consent letters are available online, including the Government of Canada’s sample travel consent letter). However, it’s generally best to include as much information as possible in your travel consent letter and to ensure you’re providing, at a minimum, the following information:
- The full names, contact information, and signatures of the person or persons given consent;
- The child’s full name, date of birth, place of birth, and passport number;
- The accompanying parent or individual’s full name, relationship to the child, contact information, and passport number;
- The travel destination, including the purpose of travel and address where the child will be staying; and
- The travel dates.
Who Can Sign or Witness a Travel Consent Letter?
The parent or parents providing consent for their child to travel must sign the travel consent letter. They’ll also need to ensure that another person witnesses their signature and that that person also signs the document.
While any adult can be a witness for a travel consent letter, the best practice is to have your lawyer witness the document and affix their stamp and notarial seal to it, as immigration officials may be less likely to question its authenticity.
What Other Documents Do I Need?
Beyond the child’s passport and other essential travel documents, the parent or person travelling with a child may need to bring other documents. For example, if the child’s parents are separated, immigration authorities may request a copy of the parents’ divorce papers and any custody agreements or orders.
Key Considerations When Travelling with Children of Separated or Divorced Parents
As noted above, travel consent letters are extremely valuable when a child is not travelling with both parents.
However, while travel consent letters are a great way to document a child’s travel plans and their parent or parents’ consent to those plans, they do not give parents or other persons carte blanche to travel with a child. Depending on the destination country, the purpose of travel, or other factors, immigration authorities may not permit a child to enter the country.
Consider also that a travel consent letter does not protect against the risks associated with international travel. Many parents ask whether travel consent letters protect them from another parent travelling with a child and preventing the child from returning to Canada. Unfortunately, a travel consent letter (even one that provides specific travel dates) does not technically prevent the other parent from extending their stay in the other country with the child.
What to Do in Parental Child Abduction Situations
Situations where a parent takes a child outside of Canada (or keeps them from returning to Canada) in breach of a custody agreement or court order are referred to as “parental child abduction.”
Parental child abduction is a crime under sections 282 and 283 of Canada’s Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46. If a parent has abducted your child (or you suspect that a parent may be attempting to abduct a child) in these circumstances, contact an experienced family law lawyer or Global Affairs Canada’s Case Management Division for emergency assistance.
Avoiding Parental Child Abduction
If you believe that a trip abroad with a parent may lead to parental child abduction, it’s critical to take steps to prevent the situation from happening. Some steps that can help include the following:
- Ensure your parenting or custody order includes conditions relating to international travel.
- Secure your child’s passport.
- Maintain contact with your child and the other parent.
- Consult Global Affairs Canada for further information about preventing child abduction (in particular, their guide, International Child Abduction: A guide for affected parents).
- Speak with an experienced family law lawyer for advice about your situation and additional steps that can help you prevent parental child abduction.
Remember, at the end of the day, there are many resources available to parents that can help navigate complicated parenting situations. Working with an experienced family law lawyer in these cases can help you protect your rights and bring you peace of mind.
Skilled and Compassionate Ottawa Family Lawyers Assisting Parents With Their Family Law Matters
Navigating parenting after a separation or divorce can be challenging, particularly regarding issues like international travel. At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we empower clients with the information needed to help them understand their rights, obligations, and options. Our team offers skilled yet practical legal advice to help parents preserve their rights and protect their interests – all while avoiding unnecessary conflict. To schedule a confidential consultation about your family law matter, contact us at 1-888-799-8057 or online.