Both Parents' OKs Needed Under New Children's Passport Law
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 23, 2001 Under a new law that became effective July 2, the State Department now requires both parents' consent to obtain passports for overseas travel of children under age 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 U.S. State Department's Office of Passport Services. He said the State Department working on about 1,000 overseas child abduction cases.
The law affects service members, who are required to secure passports for spouses and children accompanying them to overseas duty stations, Hotchner remarked in a July 17 interview with the American Forces Information Service. Service members themselves do not require passports, he added, if they are subject to military Status of Forces Agreements that allow them to travel and reside abroad on orders and their military identification card.
DoD civilians, Hotchner noted, are required to secure passports for themselves and nonmilitary family members who will be accompanying them to overseas duty assignments.
He said both parents must now sign children's passport application forms, unless one parent is unavailable because of geographical separation, divorce or other circumstances. In this case, Hotchner said, the parent applying for a child's passport needs a signed, nonnotarized 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.
Separated or divorced military or DoD civilians with sole custody agreements shouldn't have a problem obtaining passports for their children under the new law, Hotchner said.
"It is fairly easy if there is a custody order. If one parent has sole custody, then consent from the other parent isn't necessary," he said.
Hotchner said the new law complements an existing program that allows parents concerned about possible abduction to register a child under age 18 with the State Department's Office of Children's Issues. The custodial parent files a copy of the (sole) custody order with State. Should the noncustodial parent then apply for a passport, it would not be issued, he said.
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.
In those instances when one of the parents simply won't consent or participate in the process, "then, they'll have to work it out between themselves and, if necessary, resort to the courts to get it settled," Hotchner said.
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, he noted, it can be written to prevent a child from going abroad without both parents' permission.