Do You Have to Have the Signature of a Divorced Spouse to Take Your Minor Child Out of the Country?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

Do You Have to Have the Signature of a Divorced Spouse to Take Your Minor Child Out of the Country?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

If you are divorced, you may need to get your child's other parent to sign off before you can seize an exciting opportunity to travel internationally with your child. Travel documentation, the custody order, and risks of legal issues are common restrictions on your ability to take your child out of the country without your other spouse's consent.

Brunette woman and blonde infant looking out the window of an airport at the planes on the tarmac

Travel Documentation

All United States citizens must have a valid passport to travel to another country from the United States. This includes children of any age, including infants. To obtain a passport for a child under 16 years old, you must complete US Passport Application (Form DS-11). The completed application must be submitted in person. Both parents must give their consent, either by appearing or by signing a consent in front of a notary public. Since both parents must sign off to get your child's passport, your ex-spouse will have to indirectly agree on your child's international travel because they cannot travel without a passport.

Children 16 years of age or older can apply for a passport on their own using the same form, Form DS-11. They must also show that one parent is aware of their passport application which can be done by having one parent with them at the office or by having one of them sign a consent in front of a notary public. Since only one parent's awareness is needed, you do not need to obtain your ex-spouse's signature. However, if they signed up for the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program, they will get notice of the passport application and can object.

Custody Order

The child custody order, or parenting plan, that was adopted during your divorce may restrict your ability to travel internationally with your child. The custody order often includes a provision requiring either notice or permission before taking a minor child on an international trip. You must comply with the rules in the custody order.

Even if there are no express restrictions on international travel, there may be other provisions that require you to get your other spouse's permission. For example, you may be required to consult with your ex-spouse on any major decisions, which could include a big international trip. As another example, your travel plans might require that your child be with you during a week where they have visitation under the custody order. If you are uncertain whether the order requires you to get their permission, consult with your divorce attorney.

Risks of Traveling Without Permission

Even if not legally required, taking your child on an international trip without their consent, or at least knowledge, creates unnecessary risks. If they do not know about the travel, they may become concerned after not hearing from the child and report them missing. Or, if your ex-spouse thinks that you took the child on the trip wrongfully, they might report your actions as kidnapping. Even if they do not go that far, they could use your actions as a reason for seeking a change in the custody order. These are just a few common legal risks.

In addition to US legal risks, not having their permission could create international legal issues. Every country has different laws and may require permission even though the US does not. The US Customs and Border Patrol recommends that a child traveling with only one parent carry a written letter of permission from the other parent.

In almost every case, it is best to get your child's other parent to consent before traveling or relocating with your child, even if it is not legally required. If you're the other parent opposes the travel, you can seek a court order allowing you to take your child on the international trip.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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