Quantcast Wilmington Divorce Attorney

Rice Law Blog

Passports for minor children involved in child custody disputes

A child must have a valid passport to travel abroad, but the danger of international abduction is a serious concern.

Passport issues for children involved in child custody disputes

I lived in Torino Italy as a foreign Exchange student through Rotary International in 1984. Recently, I took my family back to Italy—to Venice and Rome—for a family vacation. The trip caused me to reconsider international travel issues for my clients who often are embroiled in a child custody dispute and the dangers of international child abduction. We represent a number of clients throughout the world who frequently travel with their children. Occasionally, we have dealt with international child kidnappings. This article is intended to provide basic information for a family dealing with child custody on international child travel issues.

Legal requirements

To travel abroad, all children regardless of age, including newborns and infants, must have their own passport. The United States State Department requires that minor children under the age of sixteen (16) apply for a passport in person.

When applying for a minor under age 16, both parents must present acceptable identification at the time of application and give their consent authorizing the issuance of a passport for their child using DS-11. Or one parent can appear with the child if the other parent has given their consent to the issuance of a passport by signing DS-3053. Finally, if one parent has sole custody under a court order or the court order specifically allows one parent to obtain a passport without the others consent, that parent can obtain a passport for the minor child.

To that end, we sometimes add the following provision in a child custody order to allow the primary custodian to obtain a passport without the other parent’s further consent:

“That the Plaintiff may obtain a United States passport for the minor child(ren) named herein without the presence of both parents and without further consent of the Defendant for the purpose of foreign travel with the child(ren) not inconsistent with the terms and provisions of this Order.”

Problem of international child abduction

Parents involved in a custody dispute sometimes abduct their children. When one parent has ties to another country, the danger of international child abduction becomes more serious. In February 2009, Christopher Savoie’s worst fear became true when he received an e-mail from his ex-wife who had taken their children to Japan indicating she and the children would not return. The couple, citizens of both the U.S. and Japan, were married for fourteen years before they divorced. Japan recognizes the mother to have custody even though the U.S. awarded full custody to the father. International child abduction can be addressed through the Hague Convention but Japan is not a signatory to that convention. So Christopher took matters into his own hands and attempted to abduct the children in Japan but was caught just outside the United States Consulate trying to get in to obtain passports for his children. He was jailed and eventually released but his children remain out of reach in Japan.

Travel to countries that have signed the Hauge Convention, is therefore, safer than to non-Hauge convention countries. See the list of countries that have signed the convention on international child abduction.

The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program

Once a passport is issued, there is no way to have that passport suspended. Therefore, a parent should seek legal help to obtain an injunction to prevent one parent traveling out of state and internationally with the child. However, if no passport has issued, parents who are concerned about their child being internationally abducted can use the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP). It enables the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues to notify a parent or court ordered legal guardian before issuing a U.S. passport for his or her child.

“Deadbeat dads/moms”—
noncustodial parents may be denied passports

Under federal law, passports may be denied to non-custodial parents who wish to travel abroad but are delinquint on child support. The Passport Denial Program, which is part of the Federal Offset Program, is designed to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations. Under the program, noncustodial parents certified by a state as having arrearages exceeding $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State, which denies them U.S. passports upon application or the use of a passport service.

Published October 24, 2009 | Authored by Mark Spencer Williams, Esq. and Managing Member, Rice Law, PLLC

2 Responses

  1. Jim Navary

    I found the info about the passport denials very interesting. I was unaware of that. It makes perfect sense as it not only aids in collecting past due alimony but also it can help stop non-custodial parents from taking the child out of the country.

Leave a Reply