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Parenting: Can we Travel to Disneyland?

An Alberta couple recently spent several months fighting about if the mother could take the child of the relationship to Disneyland.

How hard is it to get the the "happiest place on earth"?

In the case of Vervoorst v. Parker, Ms. Vervoorst requested, in October 2011, that Mr. Parker sign a travel consent so she could travel with the parties’ five year old child to Disneyland, in April 2012.  The parties had a number of disputes about the travel consent and, this led to a court application and a written decision of Justice Lee.   Justice Lee ordered that the mother could take the child to Disneyland and dispensed with the requirement for the father to sign a written consent.

Question: After separation, do I need the consent of the other parent to travel with my child outside of Canada?

I get asked this question quite often.  Generally, the answer is yes, you do need the consent of the other parent to travel outside of Canada with a minor child.

I know of some people who “take a chance” and cross international boarders without written travel consents of the other parent.  This is not a good idea.  The last thing you want, for example, is to be trying to drive across the US boarder on a long weekend and be stopped. 

Do you remember the episode of 90210 where Dylan and Brenda go to Baja and she gets stopped at the boarder?  The other parent is probably going  to be equally annoyed as Jim and Cindy Walsh if they have to come and bail you out at the boarder…skip to minute 7 of the video.

Question: What kind of consent do I need? What form should the consent take?

If you are travelling outside of Canada with minor children, it is best to have written consent in the form suggested by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

Travel consents are quite easy to prepare – you can likely prepare one yourself and then go to have your lawyer review it and provide you with any legal advice and recommendations necessary.  

You can find the link to an interactive consent form on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

The website also provides some general guidelines about travelling with a child:

Since every situation is unique, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer for advice on what your child will require, particularly if your parenting arrangement has special terms governing international travel.

Carrying a consent letter cannot guarantee entry, as permission to enter another country is entirely the decision of that country. A consent letter may be required by foreign authorities, in addition to other country-specific entry requirements. You should contact the representatives of the country or countries to be visited by the child to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information regarding specific entry requirements.

We strongly recommend that you have the consent letter certified, stamped or sealed by an official who has the authority to administer an oath or solemn declaration, e.g., a commissioner for oaths, notary public or lawyer, so that the validity of the letter will not be questioned. Note that regulations concerning the administration of oaths fall under provincial/territorial law and are not determined by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Furthermore, it is up to each official/individual who witnesses such a letter to decide what proof he/she needs to see to be able to witness/sign the letter. An official should only witness/sign a letter of consent if he/she is convinced that the individual requesting the letter is who he/she claims to be and that adequate proof has been provided.

We also recommend that you contact the transportation company (airline, train, bus, etc.) in order to observe any additional policies they might have in place.

There is also more information available about children and travel on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

Question: What are some tips for approaching the other parent to get consent?

Generally, the easiest and cheapest way to proceed is to make reasonable agreements between parents about international travel arrangements.  An example of this would be:

  1. Inform the other parent, in writing (for example a friendly e-mail) about your travel plans, including: the specific dates you are proposing to travel, where you are going, and who you are going with and how they will be able to contact the child while you are travelling – ideally this would be well before the proposed travel (ideally 6 months to allow for flexibility);
  2. Obtain the other parents agreement to your travel plans and make adjustments if necessary (for example, we have grandma’s 100 Birthday celebration that week – could you go on vacation the next week?).  Ideally you would get the other parent to consent to the travel itinerary before you book your trip;
  3. Once you have obtained agreement for your travel plans, discuss with your lawyer what consents and special arrangements are necessary (for example, a trip to China will have different requirement than one to Disneyland and the requirements if you have sole custody might be different than if you have joint custody);
  4. Send the other parent the required consents and request, politely, that they sign them and return the originally executed documents to you within a reasonable time (for example two weeks); and
  5. Once the travel consent is signed, provide a copy to the other parent for their records.

Generally, being reasonable, ensuring that you have proper lead time, and respecting the other parents requests for travel dates will help you stay out of court on the matter of travel consents.

Question: What if the other parent unreasonably refuses to consent?

In certain situations, the Court may make an order dispensing with the requirement for written consent to travel (either for one trip or for all travel outside of Canada), for example in one case, the court made an order for both parents to travel outside of Canada with notice to the other parent, but not specific written consent:

In addition, the plaintiff has raised the issue of Kevin’s passport. The plaintiff requested that the defendant sign Kevin’s passport but on the last day of trial he had not done so. While the defendant asserted at trial that he has done so and will remain in contact with the plaintiff so that he is available to sign for its renewal in the future, the defendant’s communication and cooperation with the plaintiff to date has been sporadic. As a result, I will also make an order that the plaintiff will be at liberty to apply for Kevin’s passport without the defendant’s consent for the purposes of s. 7(2) of the Canadian Passport Order, SI/ 81-86Slater v. Slater,2002 BCSC 552 (CanLII), 2002 BCSC 552.  The plaintiff is required to notify the defendant that she is making such an application. Furthermore, she does not require the defendant’s written consent to travel abroad with Kevin, however, the plaintiff is required to give the defendant 48 hours’ notice of any intended travel with Kevin.

With respect to the defendant, he may also travel with Kevin without the written consent of the plaintiff, however he must provide 30 days’ notice along with travel and contact information 48 hours in advance of departure and is required to return Kevin’s passport to the plaintiff forthwith upon their return.