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I am a British man living in Spain married to a Spanish woman, our son has both British and Spanish nationality.

I plan to go the UK alone with him for a week and wanted to ask about if I'm likely to have problems leaving Spain or entering the UK with border agents as my wife won't be travelling with us. In cases where the parents are divorced (we remain married) I've heard stories of the border agents in both the departure and arrivals countries suspecting that the father may be taking his child on a one way trip without intention to return. (Note I have a return flight booked and can demonstrate this with the reservation if asked).

Is this likely to be an issue? Is there anything I should do in advance to prepare for this eventuality?

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It is rare but not unheard of that border officials ask for a show of permission of the other parent or even stop a parent and child from leaving or entering a country because they are not convinced that the parent with the child is the parent and/or does not have approval of the other parent.
Officially the child may not need more than his passport, but in reality, having a letter of permission and proof of relationship will make it easier if they worry.

In one case the other parent and several children had already passed through exit control (Schengen) and the parent who was with the last child was not allowed to travel nor to contact the rest of the family in the airport, as they thought she was going to kidnap the child.

In your case I would get a letter from the mother and a copy of whatever information you have that the child is yours as well as hers, and get both stamped by a notary or some such.

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  • The United States also recommends a notarized affidavit signed by the non-traveling parent. Aug 15, 2018 at 16:43
  • "Officially the child may not need more than his passport" - either it's required officially or border guards are breaking the law by demanding it. I suspect an official requirement does exit in reality.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:32
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    @JonathanReez in some countries, if not most, border guards are authorized to investigate crimes, which generally means that they can ask for evidence, even if it is not "officially required," without breaking any law. They can't necessarily make it an absolute condition of entry, but in any event they cannot deny entry in this case, because OP and his son are both British citizens. But they can detain them until they are satisfied that no laws are being broken, just as a police officer could.
    – phoog
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:00
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Adding what I was told by the Spanish police. (Policia Nacional)

As is my case if both parents remain married, there should be no problem with one of the legal guardians travelling alone with their child. It is important to take some manner of proof of this so I was advised to take my Libro de Familia which is a document issued in Spain to couples when they get married and contains official registration of any children they may have.

The policeman did ask if I was divorced or in the process of getting divorced and said in this case it's necessary to get a letter of permission from the other parent which needs to be validated in a National Police station before travelling.

I didn't find out if both parents have to be present during the validation visit to the police station, feel free to add in the comments if you find yourself in this situation.

Adding an edit after 4 years (unfortunately now divorced).

I was refused boarding on an Iberia flight to the UK with me travelling with a UK passport and my son who has both Spanish and UK nationality travelling using his Spanish DNI. This was because the gate employee was concerned I didn't have custody at the time, despite passing check-in, the border and security without issue. This was a routine check as there were no other events to suggest we were anything but normal travelers. Fortunately I had a copy of my divorce agreement on hand which clearly stated I had custody for the dates concerned and we were allowed to board.

On arrival at the UK border we faced a 20 minute delay while checks were carried out to ensure my son although not carrying a UK passport was entitled to one, as I had registered his birth with the British consulate when he was born. (His age at the time of this journey was 9 years old). The border force agents were extremely professional and advised me to obtain and use a UK passport for his travel to the UK in the future to avoid delays. Note that I was told during the incident at the boarding gate that this could also have been avoided if my son was carrying a UK passport.

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  • When a couple divorces, I suppose it would be noted in the libro de familia. But what about a couple "in the process of getting divorced"? How would a border officer know that there should be a letter of permission?
    – phoog
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:03
  • Yes, once divorced it goes in the Libro de Familia, in terms of a divorce in process I'm guessing but imagine when you notify the state of the beginning of official proceedings flags would be put on you and your children's IDs which would be linked to your travel documents and visible to border agents. Aug 16, 2018 at 13:07

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