If you are a parent with children going through a divorce you may want to consider how important it is to have a provision in your final decree of divorce regarding passports and international travel. This is because how often international abduction happens, and you have heard about it many times.
One parent takes their children out of the country without the other parent’s knowledge or consent, and this can either be short-termed or permanent. Regardless the amount of time, this is what is known as an international abduction: when a child is taken away from their country of residency.
Especially if you as a parent have lived outside of the country or have family living out of country, you should take extreme precaution and educated yourself to protect your children and yourself in case you are ever put in this position.
Federal Law Governs
As we shift to talk about international travel, there should be no surprise that US Federal law governs international travel with children. The federal law governing international child abduction was enacted in April 1988 through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA). ICARA itself lays down the procedure to implement the Hague Convention, a treaty which many countries have entered into, which aims to return children to their residence after they have been wrongly removed and enforce all other rights regarding custody and visitation in other states.
This blog itself will not address the ICARA or Hague Convention in much detail but instead will discuss measures the federal and state governments have enacted to protect children from international abduction. There are several ways the federal government has continued to place restrictions on international travel which many can benefit from.
If you are a child under the age of 16, both parents are required to be present during the application process regardless if they are married or not. If you are a single parent, you must have proof that you have sole custody of your child.
If you are a child who is 16 or 17 you will be able to apply for the passport in person on your own. However, this is conditioned on showing proof that at least one parent or guardian is aware you are applying for a passport. If one parent objects to application of a passport, the child may be denied. Proving parental awareness can be shown by having the parent/guardian present during the application with their ID, or having a signed, notarized statement providing consent with a copy of their ID.
Requiring parental involvement in the passport application process helps parents stay informed and keep children under the age of 18 under parental supervision. It also will alert them if someone if attempting to consent to their child’s application on their behalf.
Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP)
Even further the Federal government, through the US Department of State, has created the Office of Children’s Issues to enact the CPIAP. This allows the Office of Children’s Issues to contact the parents/legal guardians of a child to get verification about their consent for the minor’s passport.
It also alerts parents/legal guardians of any pending or past passport issuances for the child. This program is available for you to enroll your child if they are under the age of 18 and US citizens. More information about requirements for enrollment can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/prevention/passport-issuance-alert-program.html.
Having this program is imperative to alert parents when others attempt to apply for a passport for their children and can help deter international child abduction. Therefore, it is important to keep all information concerning your child updated in this program.
To protect children who are traveling alone, the federal government requires that child to have notarized consent before they are leaving the country. In fact, many other countries too require a child to have a Minor/Child Consent Form. This form will need to be notarized and provide consent from the parents.
The US Customs and Border Protection are highly sensitive to child/human trafficking and abduction. Especially if your child is traveling with someone else who is not the parent this situation can lead to suspicions, and possibly even detainment if further questioning of the situation arises.
State Measures for International Abduction
Although most protections are granted via Federal Law, the Federal government has reserved some power for the States regarding international abduction. In the state of Texas these authorities include:
- Allowing the court to possess as passport as long as necessary to reduce the chance of international abduction
- Where a court takes possession of a child’s passport, it will be report to the Office of Children’s Issues to prevent unauthorized replacement attempts
Risk of Abduction
If there is a risk of abduction more safety measures can be implemented by a Texas Court and include:
- Appointing the parent who doesn’t present a risk of abduction as a sole managing conservator of the child
- Requiring supervised visitation of the parent at risk for abduction until no longer necessary
- A parent can request that the parent traveling with the child post a “ne exeat” bond before leaving. This ensures the other parent will comply with the custody order, and bond would be for an amount that covers the cost of filing an international abduction case.
Risk Factors for Intentional Abduction
You know what safety measures the state of Texas can employ if you present a risk for abduction, now what are some signs for international abduction? The court will look at these factors to decide if there is risk:
- Has the parent taken, kept, withheld, or hid the child unless it can be proven it was necessary to prevent imminent harm to the child?
- Has the parent made threats to take, keep, withhold, or hide the child?
- Does the parent lack a financial reason to stay in the country, are they financially independent, able to work outside of the US, or is unemployed;
- Facilitated the removal of the child from the US previously
No Risk of Abduction
When no risk factors for international abductions exists courts will generally still include provisions in the final decree of divorce regarding the application and possession of a child’s passports. These provisions include language on what parent is able to apply for the passport, notifying the other parent about the application no later than 5 days after application, what parent has the right to maintain and possess the passports and the delivery requirements to the other parent, and written notice to the other parent about international travel and information requirements on the notice.
Violation of these passport provisions can lead to the other parent filing a Petition to Enforce by Contempt. This means they are requesting the party in violation to be held in jail or fined for not complying with the order.
Protect the Children
There have been many remedies to combat international child abductions. Protecting your child is the most important thing, and you should be aware of the aid the federal and state laws provide you. If you have remaining questions about international abduction or if you fear your children may be in danger of international abduction, please call our office to set up a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our expert attorneys. Our attorneys understand that every family is unique, and we want to help serve and protect the children of our communities. Thank you for your attention to today’s blog.