Law changes for children’s passports

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WASHINGTON – Under a new law, the U.S. State Department now requires both parents’ consent to obtain passports and visas for overseas travel of children under 14.

The intent of the law is to lessen the chance that parents can abduct their children and use U.S. passports to escape with them overseas, said John M. Hotchner, acting managing director of the state department’s office of passport services.

The state department is working on about 1,000 overseas child abduction cases, he said.

Permission is issue. Both parents must now sign children’s passport application forms, unless one parent is unavailable because of geographical separation, divorce or other circumstances, he said.

In this case, Hotchner said, the parent applying for a child’s passport needs a signed, non-notarized letter or statement from the absent parent that provides permission to take the child or children overseas.

Hotchner said he has already heard of instances where permission letters were faxed from overseas.

“It is fairly easy if there is a custody order,” he said. “If one parent has sole custody, then consent from the other parent isn’t necessary.”

Hotchner said the new law complements an existing program that allows parents concerned about possible abduction to register a child younger than 18, with the state department’s office of children’s issues. The custodial parent files a copy of the (sole) custody order with the state department. Should the noncustodial parent then apply for a passport, it would not be issued, he said.

Up to the parents. Ultimately, Hotchner said, the parents themselves must resolve issues affecting their children’s passports.

“We’ll take a look at any kind of documentation that an individual parent wants to submit that will help to overcome the presumption that there should be a second parent signing the passport application,” he said.

“… They’ll have to work it out between themselves and, if necessary, resort to the courts to get it settled,” Hotchner said, referring to instances when one of the parents simply will not consent or participate in the process,

A court-sanctioned custody agreement between separated or divorced parents can award custody to an individual parent and require that the couple work out travel arrangements, Hotchner said. For instance, it can be written to prevent a child from going abroad without both parents’ permission.

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