If you have joint custody of any children under 16, both parents must consent before taking them out of the country.
If your child does not already own a passport, Pennsylvania law requires that both parents must appear in person and provide proof of parentage to apply for the passport. In the case of divorce, a single parent may apply for the passport if he or she presents evidence of having sole legal custody or a court order permitting international travel with the children.
With joint custody, one parent has the right to oppose major decisions that pertain to the child, and this would include travel abroad, even if the child under 16 already owns a passport. If you are the one wishing to travel abroad with your child, you must obtain the written consent of your ex-spouse. This consent must be written in a manner that will be accepted at airports. If your ex is uncooperative, you may apply to the court to receive permission, but this can take time, and filing incorrectly can extend that timeframe. Whether you receive written consent or apply to the court, be sure to review your situation with an experienced family lawyer.
If your ex is trying to take your child overseas and you want to prevent it, you have the right to apply to the court to stop the travel. If your ex takes the child without your consent, you may file an international child abduction case with the U.S. State Department. But you want to avoid this since it is a long and difficult process.
One way to avoid an international abduction case is to file for a Ne Exeat bond (Latin for “that he not depart”). This bond requires the traveling parent to specify location and duration, provide contact information, and put up sufficient bond to cover the cost the non-traveling spouse would incur to try to get the child back.
Additionally, per PA law, a parent who owes $2,500 or more in child support is not eligible to receive a U.S. passport. You can also utilize the U.S. Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program to flag any attempt to get a passport for your child with a fake consent form.
Traveling outside of the country with a child after divorce or separation requires many legal steps but can be done in a way that gives the child a positive experience while protecting the child and the rights of the parents. Given the many Pennsylvania and federal laws governing international travel with minors, we recommend that you reach out to us at Ulmer Law so that we can guide you through the process.