If you are planning a foreign vacation this summer, you had better plan ahead to determine all the necessary travel documents that you will need. This can be a much more complex issue than one might think. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of State International Travel website, which can be accessed here. Or, you can call them by telephone at (877) 487-2778 if you have questions.
I do not intend to try to outline all the various documents required for each international destination, but rather to alert our readers of a requirement that is more obscure. In recent years, concerns about international child abductions have increased; and as a result, new travel restrictions have been imposed including border officials becoming much more cautious when they encounter a child traveling without both biological parents. Just having a child’s birth certificate is not enough. It is wise to bring a copy of the legal custody orders with you. But in addition, did you realize that a child departing the U.S. and traveling with only one parent, grandparents, a guardian, or another adult or group, must have a notarized Travel Consent Authorization document from both birth parents or legal guardians?
This is true even if you are planning a quick trip to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. Here is what could be expected as you drive across the border, say about noon, on a Saturday. In this hypothetical situation, you are traveling with your 12 year old son, Dexter, and your Fiancé, Tiffany, to consider if you want to go there for your upcoming honeymoon. You had gone through a rough divorce with Dex’s mother 5 years ago and were awarded sole custody of him. You have mother’s verbal agreement to go to Canada. So, here is what might happen. After waiting for about 20 minutes in line, you are confronted by a U.S. Immigration agent that will scope you out, look at your documentation, and ask you a series of questions. He will see Dex in the backseat and will say something like: “Hi. What is your name? How old are you, son? Where are you going?” All of this is starting to annoy your son, and then when the agent asks, “Where is your mother?” Dexter responds that she is home in Dayton. And then, becoming more irritated and hungry, Dex responds to the agent’s follow-up question as to whether his Mom has consented to the Canadian trip with, “No, she was really angry about it and didn’t want me to go with my dad and Tiffany at all! She was very worried about it!”
If that were to occur, even if you had the verbal consent of your ex-wife, you might well find yourself waiting at the border until Dexter’s mother can be contacted by telephone to approve proceeding with your trip! Who knows how long that might take, and depending on her whereabouts and mood, what she might tell the agent. Talk about ruining a trip and stressing your family out – this could do it big time!
The written authorization does not have to be complicated or necessarily on a prescribed form. It can even be handwritten, but it needs to contain all the required information. As a convenience to readers of the Ohio Family Law Blog, I have attached an Authorization to Travel with Minor(s) Affidavit. Click here to access it. Plan ahead. If your child’s other parent is uncooperative, you may need to contact a family law attorney to file a motion to get a Court Order to allow the travel abroad.
For reference, we have previously posted many related articles on our blog about Hague Convention litigation, international child abduction matters and passport blocks. This area of law is of significant concern in today’s society! Some of those articles are linked below this post. Others may be found by checking the index on the left margin or by entering your specific topic of interest in our website search engine.
I hope that reading this post may help you to avoid a possible “border nightmare.” By the way, if you do find yourselves at Niagara Falls, one of my favorite childhood memories was sailing near the falls on the “Maid of the Mist” ship! A damp experience, but very cool nonetheless! As an adult, I was recently able to once again don the blue rain slickers and enjoy the same boat ride with my own children. I really recommend it! In any event, enjoy your travels abroad and make your own great family memories!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.