Groups » Child Custody: Tips for Travelling Outside of the Country

Parents who are divorced will come to an arrangement regarding the custody of their children. The custodial parent (or the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time) typically has more control over specific situations and decisions involving travel. While courts provide custody to both parents, the custodial parent holds greater sway when it comes to authorization and permissions as the supervising parent.
This may not be your situation if you were married and have equal custody of the children, meaning that the children split their time evenly between both parents. However those situations are less common, and if the couple was never married (common law) the custodial rights in most cases rest with the biological mother. And while visitation rights and shared time are very straightforward and enforced by the court, the most cooperative split custody arrangements can become strained when it comes to taking children outside the country.

Opportunities to Travel outside the Country

There are a number of reasons why a non-custodial parent may wish to take children outside the country. Visiting family members is one reason, if the non-custodial parent has family that reside in another country, as his or her children get older, they will naturally want to take them to see family members, grandparents and cousins.

Individuals who travel on business may have opportunities to take children who are a little older on trips with them. It is an exciting and affordable way to expose children to new sights, cities and cultures and many professional parents use the opportunity of an extended vacation after their trip to spend time with their children. Traveling with a parent is both educational and fun for kids.

Why It Is Cause for Concern?

If both parents are from the United States and reside within the United States (instead of being nationals of a foreign country) there is generally very little risk involved in taking children outside the country. After all, any trips to foreign countries (if you are not a naturalized citizen of the country) are limited in terms of their duration. And most custodial parents are comfortable with short trips outside the country, particularly to holiday destinations like the Caribbean, to Canada or the United Kingdom.

Where travel becomes a concern is when the non-custodial parent is a citizen of a foreign country. Assuming that the custodial parent provides the necessary authorization and written approval, a parent can take the child to the parent’s original country of origin. If that happens and the parent decides that he or she would like to retain custody of the child as a citizen of that country, it can be difficult and costly to file legal action to have the child or children returned to the United States.

In North America, many of the rights of guardianship for children rest with the mother. The law protects maternal rights to retain care and control of children born to her. However is the majority of other countries around the world, the Father retains the right of guardianship when it comes to children born to him, inside or outside the legal definition of marriage.

It is important to note that a foreign national (whether a Mother or Father) can create the same legal issue by refusing to return to the United States with the child and what happens next is a long, drawn out legal battle to attempt to repatriate the child to their country of origin (or citizenship).

Understanding International Child Abduction

According to the law in the United States, once a parent has taken a child to another country and refused to return the child to the custodial parent, the child is classified as an “international abduction” case. Taking action to have the child or children returned is complex and involves navigating the state law, and the international law and custody jurisdiction in the foreign country.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty that governs 80 countries around the world (and includes the United States). The agreement allows for children who have been abducted from the country by a parent to be lawfully returned to the legal parent in their country of “habitual residence”. The treaty helps, but every year more than 1,200 Hague cases are reported in the United States.

For more information on international child abduction and support services for Americans, visit The United States Department of Justice page.

How Parents Can Prevent International Child Abduction

There are a number of steps that custodial parents can take to help protect their children against parental abduction. A child custody lawyer can help you determine the best steps to take if the threat of abduction to another country has been made. However, you will need to hire a lawyer from the state you live in to be able to make the most of the laws applicable there. If you reside in Chicago, for instance, ask for recommendations or search online for child custody lawyer Chicago for best results.

But in the interim we’ve provided some recommended precautions to help prevent an abduction:

  • Retain control of the legal identification and/or passports issued for the child at all times in a secure location. Many legal professionals suggest a private lock box at a financial institution (where identification is required to access the contents) as the ideal location for your personal passport, as well as documents and identification for your child. By eliminating access to these documents, you make unauthorized travel with your child more difficult.

  • Contact the United State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to ensure that no new United States passport can be issued for your child without your in-person authorization. This will prevent a non-custodial parent from requesting new travel documentation.

  • An emergency restraining order can be taken out against the non-custodial parent given the nature of the threat and visitation rights can be revoked temporarily, pending a review in a family court of the potential for parental abduction. This move also makes the judicial system aware that there is a potential risk of flight, and legal access and accommodations can be adjusted to protect the child. If the threat has been made repeatedly, it is important to gather evidence such as text messages, email or phone recordings of the abduction threat, which can help legal services impose restrictions with ample cause.

Remember that schools, day care providers and relatives and friends should be apprised of the situation and a protocol established that protects the child from being “picked up” from a secondary location, until the concern is addressed legally.

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