When planning an international vacation, travelling parents should ensure that their U.S. citizen children have passports and be aware of the special requirements for minors under the age of 16.  There may be hurdles if the child’s parents are not married; renewing a passport can be an issue since passports for children under 16 are only valid for 5 years and the parents’ relationship may have changed since the issuance of the first passport so mutual consent (or even communication) is nonexistent.  To make it even more cumbersome, parents of minors under 16 must apply in person for initial passports as well as renewals.

The first question to ask is whether both parents are named on the birth certificate.  If the child’s biological mother is the only one listed on the birth certificate, and there is no paternity court order adjudicating a legal father, the mother has the right to apply for the child’s passport on her own.  If the father is listed on the birth certificate and there is no court order designating the mother as the custodial parent with sole authority to make decisions about the child’s passport, the U.S. Department of State may deny an application for a passport, or even a renewal of the passport, without the consent of the non-applying parent. 

Other issues arise when the U.S. citizen child is residing outside of the U.S. but the child’s mother is here in the U.S.  A minor can apply for a passport at a U.S. consulate in the foreign country, but the parents must be present.  When that is not possible due to the parent lacking legal status to re-enter the U.S. after going to the consulate, the parent must properly designate a third party to accompany the child to the passport appointment.  The third party is required to present proof that the child is a U.S. citizen (such as the child’s state-issued birth certificate) and must also comply with the Two-Parent Consent Law by obtaining a signed and notarized Form DS-3053: Statement of Consent.  This means that both parents must sign their consent to the issuance of a child’s passport, or one of the parents must prove that it is impossible to obtain the signature of the non-applying parent by properly completing Form DS-5525: Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances. 

If the Department of State is not convinced that the applying parent has made sufficient efforts to locate the non-applying parent, or there are not valid reasons to support why the applying parent cannot obtain the non-applying parent’s signature (such as a restraining order, domestic abuse, or incarceration), then the passport application can be rejected.  This leaves the parent with no other choice except to pursue a custody petition in family court.  A family court judge can issue an order awarding custody and designate who has the authority to apply for the child’s passport.  Even if a passport is not needed at the moment, it is prudent for parents involved in custody matters to address who is allowed to obtain the child’s passport and to address permission for the child to travel so that there are no disputes in the future.  If you would like more information about a family law matter, please contact Wilson Law Group at 612-436-7100 for a consultation with one of our family law attorneys.