Is My Ex-Spouse Allowed to Take Our Child Out of the Country?

Divorces are difficult situations for any family dynamic, but they become even more complicated when they involve children. If you and your ex-spouse have a custody arrangement for your children, there may be steps each parent must take before he or she can leave the country. Even a short vacation to visit relatives in foreign countries could involve special requirements. Every divorce and custody agreement is different. If your ex-spouse is trying to take your child out of the country, here’s what you need to know to protect your rights as a parent.

Check the Terms of Your Custody Order

During your divorce process, the courts likely issued a custody order determining each parent’s custodial rights. If you share custody of your children with an ex-spouse, each individual parent has the right to oppose large decisions that involve their lives, including leaving the country. The terms of your custody may expressly oppose international travel or relocation unless both parents consent to the arrangement. If your ex-spouse is attempting to take your children to a foreign country without your permission and against the terms of a custody agreement, you may need to file a court order.

If your ex-spouse has full custody, he or she may have the authority to make major decisions on behalf of minor children without your permission. However, California custody laws state that the courts can take possession of a child’s passport, preventing international travel, if it deems it necessary to protect the child from a risk of abduction. This may be the case if you have visitation rights or shared custody in some way and you do no give your ex-spouse permission to take the children out of the country.

Know the Move-Away Laws in California

Many states have their own move-away laws regarding child custody situations. In California, if your ex-spouse has sole custody, you can only prevent him or her from taking your child out of the country if you can prove the move will harm your child. Whether your custody order is temporary or permanent will also have an effect. Always speak with a family law attorney about your specific custody arrangement regarding moving children to foreign countries.

If your ex-spouse can prove to the courts that visiting or moving to another country is in your child’s best interest, the courts may allow the international travel even if you have joint custody and don’t approve of the action. When you take these situations to the courtroom, the ultimate decision will always come down to what’s in the child’s best interest.

Find Out About Your Child’s Passport

To reduce the number of international abductions, United States Federal Law requires both parents to sign the passport application for a child under the age of 16. The only exception is if the parent has proof of sole custody. As the parent who is not traveling with your child, you must provide notarized consent for your child to leave the country with your ex-spouse. Without your consent or signature, the U.S. Department of State will refuse to issue the passport. To receive instant notifications if someone requests a passport in your minor child’s name, enroll in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.

Consult with a Family Attorney

If you fear that your ex-spouse will take your child to another country without permission, contact an attorney right away. A California lawyer can contact the proper channels to prevent abduction and get started on the legal matters regarding custody of your child. If you’re in the middle of creating a parenting plan for custody after a divorce and worry about your ex-spouse leaving the country, consult with a lawyer to come up with a plan that protects your rights as much as possible.