Personal Law
June 11, 2024

Child with a different surname - Can I take them abroad?

When it comes to travelling abroad with a child, parents often have questions about the legal implications, especially if the child has a different surname. In England and Wales, parental rights and responsibilities are primarily governed by the Children Act 1989, which outlines the rules regarding Parental Responsibility, including decisions related to a child's upbringing.

In this article we explore the legal considerations surrounding taking a child with a different surname abroad and provide guidance on navigating this situation.

Understanding Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility can be defined as encompassing all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority that a parent has in relation to their child and their property. This includes making important decisions about the child's education, health, religion, and general upbringing.

Permission Requirement for Taking a Child Abroad

The law is clear regarding international travel with a child. If a parent intends to take their child out of England and Wales, they must obtain permission from all individuals who share Parental Responsibility for the child or seek the court's permission. It is important to note that this requirement applies regardless of whether the child shares the same surname as the travelling parent or not.

Consequences of Travelling without Permission

Taking a child under 16 abroad (outside of England and Wales) without the necessary permission can be considered child abduction, which is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984. To avoid legal complications and to protect the child's best interests, it is crucial for parents to adhere to the relevant legal requirements when planning international travel.

Exceptions to the Permission Requirement

While permission is generally required to take a child abroad, there are exceptions to this rule. A parent with a Child Arrangements Order specifying that the child lives with them (A ‘Lives With Order’, formerly referred to as Residence Order and before that a Custody Order) can take the child abroad for a period of up to 28 days without seeking permission. The other parent though would still need permission as above. It is important to consult the specific terms of the Child Arrangements Order and ensure compliance with any restrictions or conditions.

Handling Different Surnames

In situations where a child has a different surname from the travelling parent, it is advisable to carry evidence of the parent-child relationship and provide clarification for the difference in surnames. This can help mitigate potential difficulties at border controls or when questioned about the child's identity. Supporting documentation may include the child's birth certificate, divorce decree/order or marriage certificate, or a letter of consent from the other parent (with their full identity and contact details) clearly stating their agreement to the child's travel, any change of name documents for the parent whose name is different to that of the child, evidence of the death of the other parent if there is only one surviving parent and finally, any court order permitting the travel.

What to Remember When Travelling with a Different Surname

When planning to travel abroad with a child who has a different surname, it is essential to understand and comply with the legal requirements surrounding Parental Responsibility.

  • Seeking permission from all individuals with Parental Responsibility or securing a court order.
  • Follow any existing court orders in place in relation to the child.
  • Carrying relevant supporting documents as above, to help facilitate smooth travel experiences. The individual requirements of the country to which you are planning to travel with the child though, should always be thoroughly checked well in advance of the trip, to avoid difficulties upon arrival.

By following the legal guidelines, parents can ensure the best interests of their children are upheld while enjoying their travels abroad. If in any doubt at all, they should consult legal advice well in advance of the planned trip.

Need to talk to us?

Our friendly family team are here to help and advise on family law matters, including Parental Responsibility. Please get in touch via email at For further information on all our family law services, please click here.

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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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