A child’s passport legally belongs to the child and is only being kept safe by their parents. When thinking about who should be the main custodian of a child’s passport, in most cases, it tends to be the parent with whom the children live. There is no law or hard and fast rule in this regard; ultimately, it is up to parents to decide. Ideally, the document should move freely between each household as and when it is needed for identification purposes and international travel. But if they cannot agree who should retain it, mediation should be the first option, with an application to court for a specific issue order being a last resort.

What is the law regarding taking a child out of the UK for a holiday?

Any parent planning to take their children out the country who does not have a lived with order in their favour, will need to obtain the permission of all those who hold parental responsibility to do so. It is a criminal offence to remove a child from the UK without this consent unless the court has given permission.

If there are no orders in place or you are the parent who has the order and your permission must be sought, if you do not consent, your ex is entitled to make an application to the court for a specific issue order to request permission to travel and for the passport to be released. Unless there is a safeguarding concern, or a real risk that the other parent will not return the child to the UK, it is likely that their application will be granted.

What can I do if my ex is withholding our child’s passport?

If the holiday has already been booked and the departure date is looming large, then you would need to make an urgent specific issue application for the release of the passport and/or permission to take the child overseas. Provided you can demonstrate there is no reason the child should not accompany you on the holiday and that you plan to return to the country following it, there should not be any issue securing the order.

Often, these situations surround a lack of trust between the parties, with the parent wishing to go on holiday being reluctant to divulge their plans in any detail and the other parent withholding the passport until they receive a full itinerary.

Parents who find themselves in this situation should  ideally put their differences aside and provide full details of their travel plans including things such as flight numbers, dates and times, contact details/address of the hotel or other accommodation.

If there is a genuine concern that the child will not be returned after the holiday and you are withholding the passport, it is important you notify the passport office that the passport has not been lost. There have been cases where a parent has indicated that a passport has been lost and they have been able to get their hands on a new one, enabling them to travel. Once a child has left the UK, it can be an extremely complex process to secure their return, depending on where they have travelled to.

What if there is a concern about abduction?

A passport order tends to be used in a situation where the person applying is fearful of an abduction imminently taking place and wishes to prevent it by seizing the travel documents of the child, and sometimes, the potential abductor. This type of order is also commonly used when a child has already been abducted from the UK and the applicant wishes for travel documents to be seized from the abductor at the point of entry as soon as they return to the UK. This means the applicant will be alerted if the abductor and/or child returns to the country because they will be stopped as a result of the port alert being in place.

For a passport order application to be made, it must be deemed proportionate and is usually for a defined period of time only. Passport seizure orders have significant implications and are therefore tightly controlled by the court. As a result, they are not easily won.

Who can apply for a child’s passport?

In order to make a valid passport application, consent is required from:

  • A parent or guardian with parental responsibility for a child under 16 who is the subject of a court order
  • The young person is over the age of 16 and not subject to a court order

Unless an objection has been notified to HM Passport Office by a parent or other objector, a passport is usually issued. If the other parent has lodged an objection to the granting of a passport for a child, the record remains in place for 12 months, after which the person objecting is contacted to ask whether or not they wish it to continue.

There may also be circumstances where the court may ask for additional information, such as:

  • A court order
  • Confirmation of a change of gender
  • Change of name deed for a child
  • Further details of a lost or stolen passport

In what circumstances can an objection be registered?

An objecting parent can ask the Passport Service not to issue a passport for a child if the court has made one of the following orders:

  • A prohibited steps order
  • An order confirming that the child’s removal from the UK is contrary to the court’s wishes
  • A child arrangements order, and the objector is the person with whom the child lives
  • An order specifying that the objector’s consent to the removal of the child from the UK is required
  • An order upholding the objector’s concerns to the child having a passport or leaving the country

It is not uncommon for an objection to be registered when the child already has a valid passport. In these circumstances, it is not possible for the Passport Office to force the surrender of a passport in order to give effect to the objection.