Here’s a conundrum: what do you do if you want to get married and start a family, and go travelling with that family, but don’t want to change your name? If you’re a man reading this, you can relax. But if you’re a woman... sorry, love. You’re screwed.
If you don’t change your name, and your children have their father’s surname, under current UK rules you can forget being able to travel freely with your kids.
And while the jury’s still out on what exactly is going to happen, it might get even worse after Brexit. Currently, if you have a different last name to your kids, you’re likely to be asked to define the relationship between you and your child at border control. Your children (if they’re old enough) may also be asked to explain their relationship to you.
This is because even though you automatically have parental responsibility if you’re the child’s mother, you still need the written permission of anyone else with parental rights before you take them abroad to prevent child abduction.
And while it’s not compulsory to carry legal documentation – such as the child’s birth certificate, a legal adoption certificate or a marriage or divorce certificate – it would probably speed up the process. Grandparents and carers travelling with kids – even those who share the same last name – may be asked to provide a letter of consent from the child’s parents to take them abroad.
Border control: how bad can it really be? Pretty bad, by the sounds of things. We heard from people who have different surnames to their kids, who described their experiences as “difficult”.
One woman told HuffPost UK that when she was entering Canada, her bemused four and six-year-olds were cross-examined about their living arrangements, while another said she’d had to get her ex-husband to fax an authorisation letter to the airport. More than one admitted being asked to show photocopies of their children’s birth certificates.
“I have always had a different last name to my son and it’s been getting more and more difficult to get through the borders with him,” another mother told HuffPost UK. “This time I had to show my marriage certificate as well to show why my name was different to the one on his birth certificate.”
“I have always had a different last name to my son and it’s been getting more and more difficult to get through the borders with him."”
Women in particularl have found the issue stressful – one mum said she had to get her husband’s written permission: both to travel and to renew her son’s passport. “I had to give written permission for my Italian husband to even renew his passport as we share a son,” she said. “No permission = no passport.”
Travelling with relevant documents – be it marriage certificates, birth certificates, or a letter of approval from the children’s dad – seem to make things easier. One father told HuffPost UK his wife is German and often goes to Germany with their three children, but without him. The kids have two different surnames between them, and two different nationalities. “I usually give her a letter – with their birth certificates – to say I’m ok with it,” he said. “So far, she’s had questions but no real problems – but that’s because of the letter.”
Some parents said they’d got around the surnames issue by giving their children the mother’s last name as a middle name, so it would show up on their passport. “We did this with our daughter, partly to avoid this issue and partly to keep it in the family tree,” one woman, who is not married, told HuffPost UK.
Another get-a-round seems to be double-barrelling surnames, while others had a completely different idea: “We’ve given our sons my wife’s surname as a given name to hopefully help if they were travelling without me,” one man said. “And my sister is considering changing her kids’ names by deed poll to incorporate such a change.”
What have your experiences been of travelling abroad with kids who have different surnames? Share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.