Preventing Children from Leaving the Country – Passport Denial
Ours is a global society. Where countries and continents could be reached only after weeks or months of arduous travel, we can now reach the other side of the globe in a matter of hours. The advent of the internet has made communication with people in other countries instantaneous. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that multicultural marriages and families are so commonplace in Florida and elsewhere in the United States.
These relationships can be wonderful opportunities for individuals to learn about another culture and country, and children of such relationships can learn about our diverse world. But these relationships present special concerns when such a couple separates or divorces and children are involved.
The Problems Presented by a Global Family
Because of families in which one or both parents are from foreign countries (that is, countries other than the United States), a divorce or separation presents unique dangers. One of the greatest fears of such parents is that the other parent will abscond with the couple’s child (run away with the couple’s child) and return to that parent’s native country or the country wherein that parent’s family resides. If this occurs, there is often little that can be done to bring that child back to the United States. To prevent this from occurring, therefore, many parents in such circumstances may attempt to limit or restrict the other parent or child from leaving the country without the knowledge of and approval of the court. The steps that concerned parents can take depend on whether the child has a valid passport and whether the child has already been taken from the country.
My Child Already Has a Valid Passport
If your child has a valid passport, there are limited options available to you to prevent your child from being taken out of the country without your permission. A valid passport entitles the holder to travel outside the United States and into certain other countries, and a Florida court generally lacks the ability to limit this. In other words, you are generally unable to ask that a Florida court revoke or suspend your child’s passport.
Some parents have been successful in having the child’s passport surrendered to the court for safekeeping. Then, if one parent wishes to travel outside the U.S. with the child, he or she would need to request the return of the child’s passport from the court. This would only occur after a hearing where the other parent could be present to inform the court as to his or her wishes.
Before a court will order that a child’s passport be surrendered, the court will want to know that the child’s removal from the U.S. is more than just a remote possibility. Instead, the court will want to see some level of evidence suggesting that one parent is actively planning to remove the child from the United States. So the mere fact that your ex-spouse is from Argentina or France does not, in and of itself, provide a court with enough reason to suspend your child’s passport. But suppose that people have heard your ex-spouse talk about plans to take your child out of the country, or suppose that your child comes home to you from a visit with your ex-spouse and gleefully declares that your ex-spouse bought them plane tickets to France, where his family resides. Or suppose still that you discover text messages or plane tickets that evidence your ex-spouse’s intention to leave the United States with your child and not return. In such a circumstance, providing this evidence to the court may be enough to encourage the court to order the child’s passport be surrendered.
What if My Child Does Not Have a Valid Passport?
If your child does not have a valid passport, you have a few options available to prevent the other parent from obtaining a passport for the child against your wishes. While either parent can apply for a passport for their child, the Two Parent Consent Law (enacted in 2001) requires both parents’ consent in order for a passport to be issued to a child unless:
- One parent has court documents showing that he or she has sole custody of the child;
- One parent has court orders allowing him or her to travel with the child;
- One parent has court documentation showing the other parent’s rights were terminated in a lawful judicial proceeding;
- One parent can demonstrate that the other parent cannot be located despite a diligent search; or
- One parent demonstrates that there is a sudden, strong humanitarian reason that justifies the issuance of a passport without both parents’ consent.
The Two Parent Consent Law thus provides some measure of protection against abduction and removal of a child from the U.S. While a parent could still smuggle his or her child unlawfully into another country, in most cases one parent cannot obtain a passport for the child without the other parent’s knowledge and consent.
A parent may also register his or her child with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) as a means of helping deter the unlawful removal of his or her child from the country. The U.S. State Department manages this program. Under this program, the parent who registers his or her child with the program is notified if anyone attempts to apply for a passport in the child’s name. In addition, if the requesting parent submits court documents or other official documentation showing that the other parent does not have custody over the child or that the child’s travel has been limited, this may cause a child’s passport application to be denied. To participate in this program, the child’s parent must submit a written request to participate to the State Department. The request must state the child’s name, date of birth, place of birth, Social Security number, address, and the phone number of the parent making the request. This request is then mailed to:
U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues
2100 Pennsylvania Avenue, Fourth Floor
N.W. Washington, D.C. 20520
My Child Has Already Been Taken Out of the Country – What Can I Do Now?
If the other parent has already taken the child out of the country, do not give up hope. You may be able to have the child returned depending on where the child was taken. In some cases, the Hague Convention may be able to help you. The Hague Convention is an agreement between 95 countries that sets forth standards and procedures that are to be followed whenever a child of one member country is “wrongfully removed or retained” in another member country. For purposes of the Convention, a child’s removal or retention in another country is considered wrongful when:
- It breaches the custody rights given to another person or entity by the laws of the country in which the child habitually resided immediately prior to removal; and
- At the time of the removal or retention, those custody rights either were being exercised or would have been exercised but for the wrongful removal and/or retention.
A total of 92 countries all across the continents have signed the Hague Convention. These countries include:
- In North America:
- United States of America, Canada, Iceland, Mexico, and Panama
- In South America:
- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay, Venezuela
- In Africa
- South Africa
- In Australia
- Australia, New Zealand
- In Europe
- Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, People’s Republic of Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- In Asia
- China, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey
When your child is removed to a member country and the child is found in a country who is a member of the Hague Convention, that country will return the child to the country in which the child habitually resided prior to his or her removal. The exact procedures by which this is accomplished is left up to the individual countries, but it is to be accomplished swiftly and without any unnecessary delays.
Parents whose child was unlawfully removed from the United States to a Hague Convention country can obtain assistance from the U.S. State Department and by speaking with an attorney experienced in international child abductions. Even if your child has been removed to a non-Hague Convention country, the U.S. State Department can provide assistance by giving you the names of attorneys who practice in that particular country and who are experienced in child abduction cases. However, because countries’ laws can vary greatly, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt to fight international abduction cases yourself – especially where the child has been removed to a non-Hague Convention country.
If you are unsure where your child has been taken (if, for instance, the other parent has family members in multiple countries), you should contact:
- Local and state law enforcement agencies, who can in turn contact the International Police (INTERPOL) and publish notices regarding the abducted child.
- The Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. State Department. They have resources and connections in many countries that can help locate a missing child.
- S. embassies and consulates, to which you can provide detailed information about your child and the other parent. Doing so may help you rule out whether your child is in a particular country.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
It is easy to lose hope and become discouraged when your child has been removed to another country. However, persistence and hard work can pay off. The help of an experienced international child abduction attorney will likely have resources available to help maximize your efforts.
While diverse families provide a multitude of benefits to children and their communities, they also present special risks when such families separate. In particular, one parent may decide to abscond with the parties’ children and go to another country. This is a particularly dangerous situation because once a child leaves the United States, it becomes difficult to “force” another country to surrender that child back to the United States.
If your child has a valid passport, you may be able to ask a court to hold onto the child’s passport if you have evidence suggesting the other parent is planning to leave the country with the child. Statements from witnesses who have overheard the other parent’s plan, plane tickets, and/or text messages can all be provided to the court to show that a surrender of the child’s passport is appropriate. This may help prevent the child from being taken out of the country by the other parent without the court’s and your knowledge.
If your child does not already have a passport, the U.S. State Department has programs available that can alert you if someone attempts to apply for a passport in the child’s name. If certain documentation is provided, a child’s passport application may be summarily denied. To take advantage of these opportunities, you will need to contact the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues in writing and provide basic information about yourself and your child.
Once your child is taken out of the country, the situation becomes very complex. An experienced international child abduction attorney with Ayo and Iken can help you greatly during this time. You should also contact the U.S. State Department, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The U.S. State Department in particular can help you get in touch with other individuals and agencies in other countries who can help you. It is easy during this period to become depressed and hopeless; however, hard work and persistence can pay off.