Children of separated parents sometimes get to have two of everything – two homes, two rooms, two neighbourhoods… sometimes even two summer vacation trips! Each parent usually has a different vacation plan in mind for the year, and it takes honest and cordial communication between the parents to coordinate who gets to take the kids when and where during some of the more popular holidays such as Christmas Break, March Break, and Summer Break.

Aside from making sure that the other parent consents to the location and duration of the vacation, the next most important step in ensuring that your holiday is enjoyed to the fullest without family law complications is having a signed travel consent letter.

Is a Travel Consent Letter Required By Law in Ontario? Why Would I Need This?

Although a consent letter is not required by any statute or legislation, it is tremendously helpful in clarifying any misunderstandings that might ruin your family vacation.

For example, mishaps at the border sometimes occur when a child has a different last name (as is sometimes the case with separated or divorced parents, or parents who do not have the same last name), and/or appears to be lacking a resemblance to, or of different ethnic background from the parent who is travelling with the child. Immigration authorities, in both Canada and foreign countries, might, based on these circumstances, suspect that child abduction is taking place based on the fact that there appears to be a lack of ‘familial’ relationship.

Whether this is acceptable behaviour by the government authority is up for debate. Nonetheless, a travel consent letter would be helpful in clarifying such cases. A travel consent letter indicates that the child has permission to travel abroad from parents or guardians who are not accompanying them on the trip. Although carrying a consent letter does not guarantee that children will be allowed to enter or leave a country, having one is a simple proactive step that can greatly reduce the anxieties and uncertainties that you do not want to be experiencing whilst on your much-anticipated family vacation.

It should be noted that sometimes a travel consent letter may be required based on the family’s parenting agreement or an order made by the court. You should review your domestic contract, or any existing court order relating to parenting issues to see if there are any requirements you must fulfill in order to travel with your child.

James Hartono

What Are Some Common Travel-Related Stipulations?

Some of the most common travel-related requirements that may exist in a parenting agreement or a court order include the following:

  • Who can apply for and renew the children’s passport – for children under 16 years of age, the parent who has custody may apply for their passport. If the parents have joint custody, then either parent may apply with the written consent of the other. Sometimes consent of the other parent may be dispensed.
  • Who has possession of the children’s passport.
  • What specific details of the trip must be made known to the other parent – this information may include details of the itinerary, addresses and contact information of places of accommodation, flight carrier information, and how to reach the child during the vacation.
  • Notice of travel – this requires that the parent proposing vacation to give proper notice to the other parent of the vacation plan a certain number of days in advance of the trip.
  • Travel authorization – this requires that one or both parents receive a consent form or letter authorizing the travel from the other parent before they leave for their trip.
  • Non-removal clause or order – this requires that one or both parents do not remove the child from the city, province, or country without the consent of the other parent or a court order.

If you are concerned that the other parent might remove the child to another jurisdiction or country without your consent, or permanently relocate from where the child usually lives, you should speak with a qualified family law lawyer about including a non-removal clause in a parenting agreement. This is particularly the case if the other parent has indicated at any point that he or she wishes to permanently move to a different province or country, has significant community support or extended family in a different jurisdiction, and/or there is no agreement or court order in place.

Who Should Sign the Travel Consent Letter?

It is recommended that everyone who has a legal right to make major decisions for the child and is not accompanying the child on the trip, signs the consent letter. This may not necessarily be limited to the other parent. For example, if a grandparent has (temporary or final) custody of the child, or if the child is in temporarily placed in the care of an organization in accordance with the Child, Youth, and Family Services Act, consent and signatures from these individuals and/or organizations must also be sought before going on a vacation.

What Needs to be Included in the Travel Consent Letter?

The following are some of the most basic pieces of information you should consider including in the letter:

  • Full names of people/organizations giving consent
  • Contact information for each of the above
  • Full name, date and place of birth, and passport number of the child
  • Full name, passport number, and relationship to the child of the accompanying parent
  • Travel dates and destinations
  • Dated signature of the people/organizations giving consent and witnesses

The Government of Canada has curated a template consent letter for children travelling abroad. Note that this is only a template recommended by the government, and is not necessarily what is required for the purpose of travel.

It is imperative that the letter includes the date on which the child is to return home. This minimizes the ambiguity of the travel consent and can alert immigration authorities if the travelling parent is in contravention of the agreed duration of the trip.

Limor Zellermayer

Does This Letter Guarantee the Child’s Entry Into the Country?

The immigration authorities of each country have the right to dictate who they let in and out of the country. The letter assists in clarifying that the child is permitted to travel with you, but the ultimate decision is up to the border agents of the destination country. It would be most prudent for you to check the Travel Advice and Advisories, posted and regularly updated by the federal government before you begin planning for your trip. The website provides some helpful information and travel advisories including local security conditions and areas to avoid, entry and exit requirements, possible health hazards, and natural hazards and climate of each country.

What are Some Other Documents that I Should Carry?

Some parents carry a photocopy of the child’s birth certificate or Canadian citizenship certificate. Some foreign jurisdictions may ask for a copy of the divorce papers and/or custody orders. Again, these are not necessarily required for any or all travel destinations, and the best practice is to consult the Travel Advisories webpage when planning for your trip.

I did not consent to my child travelling with the other parent. Nonetheless, s/he removed the child out of the country. What should I do?

Regrettably, parental child abduction remains an all too prevalent crime in Canada. Parental child abduction contravenes sections 282 and 283 of the Criminal Code and may be punishable by up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

If you think your child is a victim of parental abduction, immediately contact the Case Management Division of Global Affairs Canada to arrange emergency assistance from the Canadian embassy or consulate of the country to which you believe your child has been taken.

If you were not aware that the child had a passport, or if you did not consent to the application of passport, it might be a good idea to make a request for the child’s information to be entered into Passport Canada’s System Lookout List.

It is also highly recommended that you speak with a family lawyer to learn about your parental rights. This is particularly important because a Canadian child custody order might not be automatically recognized by some countries; different countries have different legal systems with respect to family law and local customs. Furthermore, the Canadian government officials abroad CANNOT represent you or intervene in private legal matters; they cannot provide you with legal advice on family law issues. The government authorities are in place to help ensure that the safety of the child, and to request assistance from local authorities in locating and assessing the living conditions of the child.

Closing Remarks

Vacations are precious opportunities during which a parent can form everlasting memories with their child. Your hard-earned holiday should not be dampened by logistical glitches – especially when said glitches could have been easily prevented by adopting proactive measures in the form of a travel consent letter. This blog post was written for general education purposes, and you shouldn’t rely on it to make your travel plans. Consult with a legal professional at Kain & Ball to find out what your parental rights and responsibilities to enjoy your vacation to the fullest.

The above information is NOT legal advice of any kind, and you should be sure to speak to a qualified family law lawyer about your specific situation. For more information, on how to find justice during a pandemic, call us at 905-273-4588 or email us at contact@kainfamilylaw.com to book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experienced family law lawyers at Kain & Ball Family Law.