International travel with children has grown increasingly common over the past several years, and so have the number of marriages between parents of varying national backgrounds. Traveling with children often entails some stress, but this increases significantly when international travel is concerned. Additionally, a divorced parent may worry about an ex-spouse abducting the couple’s children and taking them out of the country.
If you plan to travel internationally with your children, or if your ex-spouse may take the children out of the country for vacation or to visit relatives in another country, then your custody agreement should be your first resource for determining the proper procedures for these events.
Custody Agreements and Travel
When couples with children divorce, the custody agreement will typically outline each parent’s rights and obligations, and this should include domestic and international travel. For example, if one parent has family in Canada, the custody agreement should have clear instructions for visits outside the country, each parent’s custodial rights, and any adjustments that will take place to compensate the other parent for the trip, if applicable.
One element of the agreement could state that if the children spend the school year with their mother and the summer with their father and the father has family or property in another country, he may take the children out of the country for summer vacation since it would not interfere with their schooling. There would likely be specific requirements in place for phone calls, correspondence, emergencies, and other possible issues. If for some reason the father is unable to take the kids for the summer one year, he may ask for an adjustment to the custody agreement to compensate for lost time.
If you plan to take your children out of the country, it is always in everyone’s best interest to notify your ex well in advance. Make plans and be sure that your ex understands the details of your travel itinerary, how he or she can reach you and the kids, and what to do in case of emergency. It’s best to obtain written consent from your ex for any trip outside of the U.S.
International Child Abduction
If one parent fails or neglects to obtain consent from the other parent and takes the couple’s children out of the country, the traveling parent may become the subject of an international child abduction case and face significant legal penalties. Depending on the other country’s immigration and child custody policies for international travelers, it’s possible for embassies and even government officials to participate in such a case.
The U.S. State Department advises parents who intend to travel internationally with their children to obtain letters of consent from ex-spouses staying behind in the U.S. Have your divorce attorney retain a copy of this letter just in case, and file it with the U.S. embassy in your destination country. It’s also wise to secure passports for your children, even if your destination country does not require them for minors. Having as much documentation as possible will help you sort out any confusion and protect against an unwarranted kidnapping charge.
If your ex-spouse does attempt to abduct your children and take them to another country without your consent, you should notify local law enforcement as soon as you become aware of the situation and contact the relevant travel companies to see if you can intercept the abduction. Notifying the airline your ex intends to use can help delay abduction long enough for local law enforcement to retrieve your children. If your ex successfully reaches his or her destination country with your children, local law enforcement will likely partner with federal law enforcement and international entities to locate your children and bring them home.
If you are concerned about your ex attempting an international abduction or you simply want to protect yourself and your kids before an international trip, speak the a family law attorney as soon as possible to review your custody agreement.