Divorce and child custody

Many divorced parents in the U.S. have family and/or business ties overseas or even dual citizenship. Unfortunately, parents have been known to take their children abroad or fail to return them to the U.S. without the consent of the other parent.

In an effort to prevent international abduction by parents and others, the U.S. Department of State created the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program. Under this program, parents can register minor children who are U.S. citizens in the Passport Lookout System.

Who Can Register a Child in CPIAP and What Does It Do?

Parents and guardians can register a child in CPIAP if they have legal custodial rights. Attorneys may submit the request on a parent's behalf. A court can also register a child in CPIAP. Interestingly, so can members of Congress.

When a child is in the program, his or her name is provided to U.S. passport agencies as well as U.S. consulates and embassies abroad. If someone applies for a passport for that child, these organizations will be alerted to notify the person who registered the child. That person has 30 days to consent or object to the passport issuance.

Whether or not a parent or guardian's consent is required for a child to get a passport depends on the custody or court order. In some cases, both parents' consent is required. In other instances, the parent with sole custody must travel with the child. Sometimes, both parents can separately register their child.

What if a Child Already Has a Passport or Dual Citizenship?

Many children who are victims of parental overseas abduction already have U.S. passports or passports issued by other countries when their parents split up. Sometimes the kids have dual citizenship. The State Department can't prevent another country from issuing a passport to one of its citizens. Parents can, however, file a request with a nation's U.S. embassy not to allow a passport to be issued or renewed.

If a child already has a U.S. passport, that child can still be entered in CPIAP. The parent or guardian is notified if a renewal application is submitted. However, they can't be stopped from leaving the country with a valid passport, and the child's passport can't be revoked. However, your attorney can request that the passport be held.

If you have any concerns about your child being taken overseas by a parent, another family member or someone else, it's essential to work with your attorney to take appropriate precautions. It's better to have restrictions with legal ramifications in place and not need them than to battle for your child's return.