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International arrangements for children: Who should have the passport?

View profile for Cathryn Harper-Tedstone
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A very common question asked by many separating parents - who holds the children’s passports? This question is especially relevant if there is a shared care arrangement in place so that children split their time equally between two households, either internationally or within the same country.

This all-important question has been highlighted in the recent high-profile divorce of Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas with the parties navigating how their dual nationality children will be spending their time following their separation. We know from recent court documents that the children have both American and British citizenship, however, it is not known whether they hold passports in both countries.

Who does the passport belong to?
In short, a child’s passport is a legal document which belongs to the child. The passport is only being kept safe by their parents, and the document should move freely between separate households as and when it is needed for identification purposes and international travel. If a parent unreasonably refuses to release the child’s passport or does not consent to an international trip; there is recourse through the Family Court to obtain a Specific Issue Order for the release of the passport and permission to travel with the children, There could also be cost consequences against a parent who acts unreasonably in this regard.

Unfortunately, this was recourse sought by Sophie Turner as she alleged that Joe Jonas was withholding the children’s passports which prevented her from returning to the UK with the children, as intended. Fortunately, the parties were able to agree interim arrangements and the children remained in New York whilst matters were resolved in mediation. The parties, weeks later, agreed a shared care arrangement for the children with no international travel restrictions, concluding the legal dispute between them.

Sadly, we are only too aware that it is not always this straightforward. A family breakdown can be a very frustrating and distressing time for any separated parent, especially if one parent feels unable to travel freely with the children and in some way is being restricted by the other parent after they have separated. Whilst every family and their circumstances are different, the principles are the same, as well as the ways in which an amicable resolution can be reached.   

What are the resolutions?
One logical resolution could be that parents apply for two passports for the children, one from each country. However, in line with each parent’s parental responsibility, this should only be done by agreement. Thereafter, each parent may wish to hold the passport(s) for their native country so that they can travel freely with the children without needing to ask for the passport(s). Again, such travel is only subject to the consent of the other parent, or for up to 28 days if there is a ‘live with order’ contained within a Child Arrangements Order from a Court in England and Wales.  If this is not possible, or the parents prefer the children to only hold one passport, then as above, this passport should move freely with the child between households.

If you are still in the early stages of a separation, and international travel is required such as to visit loved ones over the Christmas period, this issue may be causing friction between you and your co-parent. Try and remain as patient and understanding as you can. During a difficult separation, and when establishing a new co-parenting routine, communication is key. It is vital for parents to work together to ensure the children can spend meaningful time with each parent, and their extended family members who may live on the other side of the world. We must also remember that children with dual nationalities, benefit from spending time in their parent’s home countries/cultures as part of their unique identity. Therefore, if one parent seeks to travel internationally with the children, and the other parent does not agree, it is never advisable to withhold the passport simply to stop the trip.

Instead, the parents should work together to alleviate any concerns or anxieties the other may have to ensure the children do not miss out. That being said, if you have genuine concerns about the children’s safety whilst abroad, or you feel there is a genuine risk that they may not be returned to your care as agreed following the trip; then you should seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible.

If you are struggling to reach an agreement regarding navigating international travel and/or relocation post separation, you may benefit from some specialist legal advice. Please contact the family team at Roythornes who will be happy to help.