Can I Travel Abroad with My Child if I Have Joint Custody?

As people across New Jersey and the nation continue to get the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, many are feeling more confident about traveling abroad. After many months of staying at home and social distancing, they are eager to explore life outside the United States. However, what if ex-spouses have joint custody and the child’s other parent is against an international trip? There are several things to consider when traveling abroad with shared custody. An experienced divorce lawyer can help families navigate the process.

Check the Custody Order

Before booking any flights or hotels, the first step is to check the official custody order. Most custody agreements contain specific language detailing what a parent must do to get consent to travel with the child. In most cases, a complete and detailed itinerary is required before leaving. As always, it is critical to adhere to the custody order. The courts can find any parent who does not comply in contempt.

More agreeable ex-spouses opt to forego a formal custody order. Other divorced spouses have a custody order that does not include language about travel at all. If either is the case, it is smart to get consent for travel plans from the other parent in writing. An experienced divorce lawyer can assist in the process to make things go more smoothly. Written consent and/or court approval protect the traveling parent and prevent costly and stressful legal disputes.

Bring Proper Documentation for International Travel

Once an international trip is approved, it is time to assemble the proper paperwork. Getting held up at the airport or dealing with United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials without the necessary documents is not a great way to start a vacation. Passports for all travelers, including minor children, are a must when leaving the country. The traveling parent should also bring a signed and notarized letter of consent from the other parent. Although there is no formal CBP form for parental consent, the agency recommends certain information be included.

In addition to a statement of consent, details about who is traveling and their destination should be included. The following should be noted:

  • The child’s name
  • The child’s date and place of birth
  • Passport numbers for everyone in the group
  • The traveling parent’s name and date of birth
  • Why, when, and where the group is traveling
  • Contact information for the absent parent
  • Signatures from both parents

The note should be signed and notarized to ensure its validity. The CBP website is a great resource for learning more about this letter and what it should include. Parents with questions about how to write this letter should ask a lawyer specializing in family law for assistance.

Traveling Abroad During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Traveling to foreign countries could not be discussed without addressing the current global pandemic. COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of everyday life, including travel. Now that vaccines are being administered across the state of New Jersey and the nation, more people are feeling optimistic about resuming international travel. At the same time, COVID-19 still presents a real threat to public health. Some countries still have closed borders and strict restrictions on foreign travel. Therefore, leaving the country in the months ahead will require more precautions than usual.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a current list of nations to avoid visiting due to high risk. Additionally, the CDC issued a formal order requiring all air travelers entering the United States from foreign countries to be tested for COVID-19 within three days of their flight departure. Those entering the United States must provide proof of either a negative COVID-19 test or documents stating they have recovered from the virus before boarding their flight. The order applies to all United States citizens and legal permanent residents aged two and older who are traveling by air to this country. Parents should note these requirements and prepare accordingly before returning to the United States.

What if I Do Not Want My Child Leaving the Country?

A parent might have reservations about their ex-spouse taking their child out of the country at this time. Some parents have ex-spouses that are citizens of another country, which increases the chance they may take the child abroad. There are a few scenarios in which it may be possible to prevent an ex-spouse from taking a child out of the country.

Specify restrictions in the custody order. Travel restrictions can be incorporated into the custody agreement during divorce. It would require mediation or a court order to modify a child agreement. This is the easiest and most proactive way to control international travel for minors.

Surrender the child’s passport. If the child has a passport, parents can request to have it surrendered to the court to prevent international travel without consent. In this case, the parent seeking to go abroad with the child must schedule a hearing to request the passport. At that time, the parent with reservations would provide compelling evidence on why it is unsafe for the child to travel.

Prevent the child from getting a passport. Generally, both parents must give consent for a minor to obtain a passport. Simply refusing to consent can stop the process. However, this is not the case for every family. Parents whose rights were terminated have no control over a child’s passport. If the traveling parent has sole custody, they can usually get a passport without the other’s permission.

It is not uncommon for parents to have concerns about their child traveling internationally without them, even if they have a healthy co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse. Parents with questions about their right to travel or to restrict travel abroad with the children should consult a knowledgeable divorce lawyer for assistance.

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Resolve Various Divorce Matters

Many parents would be apprehensive about their child traveling abroad during the current health crisis. If that applies to you, know that the Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help. We understand the law and are staying on top of ever-changing travel bans and guidelines to provide superior legal guidance for your custody matter. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation with our legal team today. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.