The Impounding of Children's Passports During Divorce in Pennsylvania

by Kelly Mroz
Pennsylvania courts can seize a child's passport to deter parental kidnapping.

Pennsylvania courts can seize a child's passport to deter parental kidnapping.

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During a divorce proceeding in Pennsylvania, one parent can take steps to deter the other parent from removing a child from the country. If the child does not yet have a passport, the parent can register to block issuance of a new passport. If the child already has a passport, the parent can ask the court to hold the passport during the divorce process.

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Issuance of Passport to Minor

Federal law requires the consent of both parents before a passport can be issued to a child under age 16. To ensure a passport is not issued over the objection of a parent, the U.S. Department of State operates the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program through its Office of Children's Issues. To participate, a parent requests that the child's name be entered into the alert program. The request must be made in writing, and the parent must submit documentation of the parental relationship and submit updated contact information to the Office of Children's Issues. Once the Office of Children's Issues receives the alert, the parent can block issuance of a child's passport.

Impounding Existing Passport

If a child already has a U.S. passport, the U.S. Department of State has no exit controls and so cannot stop a valid passport holder from leaving the country. However, state courts, including Pennsylvania, have the authority to seize and hold a minor's passport to prevent parental kidnapping. To ask the court to take such an action in Pennsylvania, a parent must file for custody in the divorce action so the court has authority over the minor child. Then the parent must file and serve a motion for special relief, asking the Pennsylvania divorce court to seize and hold the child's passport, explaining why such action is necessary. The court will require a good reason. If the court grants the relief and seizes the passport, the parent should notify the U.S. Department of State's Office of Children's Issues to prevent the other parent from claiming the passport was lost and obtaining a new one.

Other Prevention Measures

Seldom will a court hold a passport until the child reaches age 18. If the court refuses to hold a child's passport, or does so only for a limited time, a parent may be able to take other measures to help prevent international parental kidnapping. Of critical importance is to obtain a clear and specific custody order. Law enforcement can act more quickly and decisively if a parent is obviously violating a custody order. The custody order can also specify application of the terms of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This agreement was not signed by all countries, so this is only helpful if the child is removed to a participating country. In some cases, a parent can request that the custody order require a parent to post a bond to ensure timely return from international travel.

Dual Nationality

The situation is more challenging if the child is eligible for dual nationality. The alert system applies only to U.S. passports. If a child is eligible for a passport from another country, the application for that passport would not trigger any alerts through the U.S. Department of State. In the case of a child with dual nationality, check with the other country's embassy to see if preventative measures are available.