The changing nature of family structures and the rise of ‘blended’ families and couples choosing not to marry means it is not unusual for a parent to have a different surname to their dependent children.
According to the latest published Office for National Statistics (ONS) Families & Household Survey data*, in 2017 there were 19 million families in the UK: 12.9 million married or civil partner couple families with 3.3 million cohabiting couple families and 2.8 million lone parent families.
The same ONS data shows that the percentage of dependent children living in cohabiting couple families (including both opposite and same-sex couples) increased to 15% by 2017 while dependent children living in a married couple family fell to 64%. The percentage of dependent children living in lone parent families changed little at around 20%.
A dependent child is defined in law as any person aged 0 to 15 in a household (whether or not in a family) or a person aged 16 to 18 in full-time education and living in a family with his or her parent(s) or grandparent(s). In 2017 there were at least 1,255 cohabiting families where dependent children had different surnames to their parents, and that number is likely to have increased since the last set of published figures.
Travelling abroad as a family with dependent children
With the school summer break looming and families planning holidays abroad the UK’s airports and seaports will soon be filled with families of every kind, but many people are not aware of the problems adults and children having different surnames can cause when it comes to travelling abroad as a family.
Security staff are under increasing pressure to check the safety and identity of children travelling into and out of the UK. Parents will be stopped at security checks and asked questions to establish their relationship with their children. Depending on how those questions are answered, some bona fide families may be turned away and holiday plans ruined.
The right documents for parents
Irrespective of the nature of their relationship, it is wise for parents to make the process as straightforward as possible by making sure they have the right documents to hand.
Home Office guidance advises that, when going abroad with children, you should carry evidence that confirms the nature of your relationship. This can include a copy of a birth or adoption certificate which illustrates your relationship with the children and/or divorce or marriage certificates if you are the parent but have a different surname.
The right documents for grandparents or divorced parents
Grandparents or divorced parents travelling alone with their children would be best advised to obtain a letter from the children’s parent(s) authorising the children to travel with the adult. The letter should state that the children are permitted to travel abroad with you and should include the parent(s) contact details.
To minimise the risk of a stressful encounter at the security desk, best practice no matter what your family circumstances would be to simply contact the airline or travel company beforehand to explain your situation and ask what they require from you.
*ONS families & Household survey data 2017 www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2017#main-points