International Travel and Child Custody Issues
Travel is an important part of many people’s lives, and exposing one’s children to different places and cultures is something parents often strive to provide. However, where and how long a parent might take a child when custody is shared is often an issue of contention. The longer the child is gone, the harder it is to maintain a connection, and concerns about a parent permanently keeping the child may also occur. The law is focused on ensuring that both parents have an opportunity to maintain a relationship with the child, which is reflected in the mandatory creation of a parenting time schedule to govern how often a child is with each parent. International travel can be particularly problematic in this regard, regardless of whether the parent asks for permission. Rare is the parenting agreement or court order that does not require permission or court approval to take the child out of the State or country, but ensuring this protocol is followed, as well as what the rights are of the parent left behind, is important to navigating this complicated issue. Sharing one’s culture and family are understandable desires, but they cannot override the other parent’s access to the child.
Properly Securing Permission to Travel Abroad
As noted above, the first thing a parent planning to travel outside the country should do is look at the terms of the parenting plan to see if international travel is permitted at all, and what the requirements are to obtain valid permission. Often this means giving the other parent a certain amount of notice, detailed itineraries, and planned points of contact with the child during the trip. In addition, to secure a U.S. passport for a child, both parents must consent to the process. If a parent refuses, the parent wishing to travel with the child can file a petition with the family court seeking to force the consent of the other parent. However, even when consent is freely given, the traveling parent should have a signed document noting consent, in case allegations of kidnapping are made, as well as copy of the child’s birth certificate if the parent’s last name is different. These precautions will allow the parent to more easily prove he/she is within his/her rights to travel with the child.
Options When Unauthorized Travel Occurs
Assuming the worst-case scenario occurs, and the parent takes the child without permission or decides to keep the child in the foreign country indefinitely, the parent left behind will need to take quick action to get the child returned. If the child was taken to a country subject to the terms of the Hague Convention, it will be much easier to get foreign authorities to act on the case. The Hague Convention requires signatory countries to follow a process to facilitate the return of children wrongfully removed from their home country. Unless one of the following exceptions applies, a parent in violation of this law would be forced to return to the child:
- Consent of the other parent;
- Acquiescence by the other parent;
- The child’s objection, if old enough for a court to consider;
- A year or more has passed, and the child is settled in the new country;
- Returning the child could jeopardize his/her human rights; or
- Returning the child would put him/her at risk for harm.
If the child is located in a non-Hague country, the situation is much more complicated and will be controlled by local laws and customs.
Get Legal Advice
There will always be a delicate balance between one parent’s right to travel with a child, and the other parent’s right to regularly see the child. If you have concerns about the other parent’s planned vacation, contact the Port St. Lucie child custody attorneys at Baginski Brandt & Brandt to learn how the law would protect your rights in this situation. Take immediate action and do not allow potential complications to snowball. Contact the Port St. Lucie family law firm today for a consultation.