Separated parents urged to mediate over passports for kids to avoid delays

Caution coincides with concerns over Passport Office strikes

NFM is urging separated and divorced parents in conflict not to put off tackling the topic of passports for their children ahead of the summer period.

The caution comes amidst growing concerns about the anticipated backlog caused by the Passport Office strikes, in which workers have downed tools over a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

According to the UK Passport Office, the current recommended wait time is currently at 10 weeks, with the industrial action expected to have a significant impact on the delivery of passports as the summer approaches.

According to the charity National Family Mediation (NFM), which helps families to sort arrangements for children, property, finance and other important matters following separation or divorce, passports regularly feature as an area of conflict for warring exes.

The charity saw a spike in enquiries relating to passports and travel as part of wider concerns last year following the lifting of restrictions post-Covid, and has dealt with hundreds of cases specifically in relation to passport and travel matters in the last 18 months alone.

While NFM says it always sees an increase in the number of people attending mediation relating to travel ahead of the summer period, the strike action means couples in conflict should look to act sooner rather than later.

While it is possible for one person with parental responsibility to apply without the other person’s permission, Sarah Hawkins, CEO of NFM, said that was unlikely to result in a positive outcome for anyone involved.

Sarah explains: “Holidays abroad are supposed to be fun and exciting. However, for couples in conflict, passports for the children and travel to another country can also be a contentious topic, and for a whole host of reasons.

“One or other parent might feel nervous about the kids going abroad without them, or with their ex’s new partner. Other people might begrudge their former spouse spending money on a trip away when they feel more should be going towards child support.

“When one parent feels particularly strongly about the issue, it’s not uncommon for them refuse to approve a passport application, which inevitably leads to further disagreements.”

Sarah says that NFM’s national network of mediators always see an increase in the number of couples wanting to discuss matters relating to travel and passports in the months leading up to the summer break, and that the team are poised for a further surge this year given recent events.

She has urged any parents who are hoping to go on holiday this year to raise any concerns with their ex-partner as soon as possible in light of the wider issues and delays relating to passport applications.  

Sarah added: “Our mediators always see an increase in cases relating to passports for children in the months before the summer break.

“While technically it is possible for just one parent to a complete a passport application, in our experience that approach tends to further fuel the conflict and can lead to further arguments and upset. In a worst-case scenario, your former spouse might even apply to the courts to block the application.

“My advice to anyone wanting to travel this year is to discuss the matter with your ex as soon as possible to avoid further delays.

“If you’re relationship is too fragmented, it is worth considering speaking to a professional mediator as they are highly skilled third-party negotiators with experience in helping families create long-term solutions that work well for their particular circumstances.

“Currently couples wanting to discuss children matters can also access the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme which is worth up to £500, so there is no reason to worry about financing it.” 

In addition to the family mediation voucher scheme, Legal Aid also remains available for family mediation.