Many parents in the Kansas City, MO area and throughout the United States enjoy traveling abroad. Some may travel for business and enjoy sightseeing and other tourism activities at their destinations, while others enjoy spending their vacation time in other countries. If you enjoy international travel and would like to take your child with you on your next trip, it’s vital to understand the role your child custody agreement plays in this. Depending on the terms of your child custody agreement, you likely have one or more terms you must satisfy before you can legally take your child out of the country.

Am I Allowed to Take My Child Out of the Country?

It is always best to consult an experienced Kansas City, MO family law attorney whenever you have questions about whether certain actions are permissible under the terms of your custody order. Failing to do so could result in an unintentional violation of your custody agreement. Any violation, even an unintentional one, can potentially result in diminished custody rights and complex family law proceedings that are both very stressful and expensive.

Your Kansas City, MO family law attorney can review your custody agreement and let you know whether you are likely to encounter any issues with your international travel plans. If you are the custodial parent and your custody order does not include any specific terms regarding international travel, it is possible that you may be authorized to travel outside the country with your child without the consent of the child’s noncustodial parent. However, if you share custody with your coparent in any measure, you will likely need to notify them of your plans and obtain their consent before making your travel arrangements.

Assess Your Custody Order

When divorcing parents develop a child custody agreement, the final decision concerning the Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Rights falls to the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. However, the parents are free to propose any terms and conditions they believe apply to their unique situation. If either parent intends to travel internationally, it’s wise for them to raise this issue during the initial child custody determination. This provides the parents the opportunity to develop specific terms and conditions regarding international travel.

In most cases, parents will agree to a notification process when it comes to traveling with their child. For example, if one parent assumes a custodial role and the other is noncustodial, the custodial parent generally has the authority to travel with the child so long as they notify the noncustodial parent if the noncustodial parent has any parental rights beyond providing child support to the custodial parent. Some noncustodial parents are entirely uninvolved in their children’s lives, and in these cases, the custodial parent would not need to notify them of any travel plans.

In the event the divorced parents have a custody agreement that stipulates clear guidelines for notification regarding travel, it is vital that the parent who plans to travel with their child follows these guidelines to the letter. In most cases, it is best for the traveling parent to secure written permission from the child’s other parent that indicates the other parent agrees to let the child travel. This is especially important for international travel. Otherwise, the United States Customs and Border Patrol and/or international embassies could become involved if the other parent raises a dispute or accuses the traveling parent of unauthorized travel with the child or even kidnapping.

Preventative Steps You Can Take to Prevent International Parental Kidnapping

Unfortunately, some parents do not heed the requirements of their child custody orders. In the event your child’s other parent takes them out of the country without your consent, you may need to file a court order to prevent them from leaving the country with your child or to have your child returned if they have already left. A Kansas City, MO family law attorney can review your custody agreement to determine if any breach has indeed occurred and then propose an acceptable remedy to the situation.

In most cases, it is possible to stop your child’s other parent from taking them out of the country without your consent before they attempt to do so due to the federal law pertaining to child passports. US law requires both of a child’s parents to sign the appropriate consent forms for a child to obtain a passport for international travel.

If you have the parental rights to object and do not sign your child’s passport paperwork, they cannot obtain a passport and leave the country. Additionally, if you believe your child’s other parent may attempt to secure their passport without your consent, you can notify the US Department of State through the  Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP), effectively placing an alert on your child’s identity to prevent any passport from being issued.

Potential Penalties for Unauthorized International Travel With a Child

If a parent takes their child out of the US without the appropriate consent of the child’s other parent, this constitutes international parental kidnapping and carries severe legal penalties for the offending parent. Depending on how they obtained the child’s passport and other actions taken to travel internationally with the child, they may have violated federal law and face severe felony charges.

The penalties for international parental kidnapping can include imprisonment, heavy fines, and a loss of parental rights. If you believe your child’s other parent has engaged in any type of parental kidnapping, it is crucial to start working with law enforcement right away. Keep records of any and all correspondence with the other parent regarding their travel plans and notify the US Department of State immediately. Your Kansas City, MO family law attorney can provide valuable guidance as you determine the best steps for regaining custody of your child.

International parental kidnapping is more common than many people realize, and experiencing this kind of situation yourself can be incredibly distressing. Reliable legal counsel is the best asset to have on your side in this situation. Whether you are planning to travel internationally with your child or are concerned that your coparent may attempt to leave the country with your child without your consent, it’s best to speak with an experienced Kansas City, MO family law attorney as soon as possible about your concerns.