Traveling has become one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s “modern family” particularly when it comes to families of divorce. Summer continues to be high travel season for vacations, and whether you’re gearing up for a fun-filled beach retreat, annual summer camp, or a quick visit to grandma’s house, it’s important to know the legal procedures required for divorced parents with traveling children…including considering updating your estate plan.
Parental Consent to Children’s Travel
If a planned trip by one parent with children infringes in any way on the other parent’s legally specified parenting time, the parent who wants to travel must obtain authorization, preferably in writing, from the non-traveling parent. Even if the trip takes place only during the traveling parent’s allocated parenting time, it is good practice to obtain a signed consent from the other parent. The consent should confirm relevant logistical details, such as the dates of travel and specific locations of travel. If the agreement is for “make-up parenting time,” that should also be confirmed in writing. If problems are anticipated in obtaining a signed consent from the other parent, the parent who wants to travel should consult with an attorney as soon as possible, preferably well in advance of the travel date. If problems actually occur, it may be appropriate to contact an experienced family law mediator and seek assistance from the mediator to work out a solution.
For a child under age 16, it is generally required that the child’s passport application be made in person with both parents or legal guardians present, unless one parent has been granted sole legal authority to apply for the child’s passport or the second parent has provided a notarized statement of consent on the U.S. State Department’s approved form. Documents supporting the child’s passport application must also be provided at the time of the application. The application form should be completed but not signed until the passport agent so advises. To make it through the process without problems, a parent or other legal guardian who needs to acquire a child’s passport should start early and be well prepared—in some cases it can take a few months.
The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under age 18 in the U.S. State Department’s Passport Lookout System. The Passport Lookout System then gives all U.S. passport agencies, as well as U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, an alert on a child’s name if a parent or guardian registers an objection to passport issuance for his or her child. If a child’s information is registered, the registering parent should then receive advanced notice of the other parent’s attempt to obtain a passport for the child. This notice may help prevent unauthorized international travel with the child. See link to the CPIAP website HERE.
Airline Requirements for Unaccompanied Minors
It is fairly common for children to travel by airplane for parenting time with their long-distance parent. According to the US Department of Transportation, most airlines will permit children who have reached their fifth birthday to travel unaccompanied under certain circumstances. Children ages 5 through 11 who are flying alone must follow special “unaccompanied minor” procedures. On some airlines, these procedures are required for unaccompanied children as old as 14. On many airlines children ages 5 through 7 will only be accepted on direct or nonstop flights and an “unaccompanied minor” fee is often charged. Airlines generally do not permit children younger than age 5 to fly alone. Check the website for the airline the child will be flying for specific requirements.
Resolving Travel Disputes
If one parent wants to take a child on a trip outside the U.S. and the other parent will not agree to sign a travel authorization document, the parent who wishes to travel overseas should consult an attorney. The the most likely action will be to petition the court to order the other parent to provide the needed authorization. Mediation with an experienced family law mediator might also help resolve the conflict. Sometimes the other parent will agree to authorize the travel if the parent who wants to travel provides all the pertinent details about the trip, including the date when the children will return, and if that parent also offers to provide the other parent with a reasonable amount of contact with the children during the trip, including phone calls and Skype, if at all possible.
Unless the applicable court order says otherwise, the travelling parent is not required to “check-in” with the other parent during their trip. However, given today’s technology, such communication is often quite easy to acomplish and is highly recommended. By facilitating brief check-ins with the other parent, challenges down the road may be prevented thereby allowing for more future family travel fun.
Estate Planning Considerations
Traveling carries with it the risks of illness, injury and other unexpected conditions. Before heading out of town, summer vacationers should review their estate plans to make sure they have properly planned for these risks. Wills and revocable trusts should be reviewed and updated so that proper fiduciaries are appointed and distribution plans reflect current wishes. Travelers should also consider who they have named under their durable powers of attorney and health care directives. Depending on the trip, it might make sense to name a different (or alternate) person to serve under these documents. If traveling without minor children (or if minor children are traveling alone), parents should ensure that non-parent caretakers are properly authorized to consent to medical treatment on behalf of the children.
Kathy Root is a nationally recognized expert on interstate and international divorce and child custody disputes. She often becomes involved in cases where a parent and child travel or relocate to another state or foreign country. John Christianson is rising star among estate planning attorneys in Portland. He helps clients plan for the future by ensuring that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes and in a tax-efficient manner.