Can My Ex-Spouse Take Our Child Out of the Country?

Divorces involving children are often complicated for everyone involved. Those complications increase dramatically if one or both spouses have ties to countries outside the United States. In some cases, a parent with custody of a child may attempt to abscond to another country with the child for several reasons. Whether this is legal depends on the custody agreement resulting from the divorce.

Custody Agreements After Divorce

When a couple has a minor child and divorces, their attorneys will help develop a custody agreement. In most cases, the court aims for a result in the child’s best interests that allows the child to have a healthy and consistent relationship with both parents.

In some divorces, one spouse may be deemed a danger to the child in one way or another and custody may be awarded in favor of the other parent. For example, a couple may divorce due to one spouse’s illegal activities. If the court determines those activities put the couple’s child at risk, the offending parent may be denied custody entirely or have custody severely limited. If one parent is awarded sole custody of a child, he or she is legally permitted to make all major decisions that impact the child’s life – with or without the other spouse’s input.

If a parent with sole custody of a child attempts to leave the U.S. with that child, he or she must provide proof of sole custody at the border or the international airport. If the divorced couple has shared custody of the child, both parents must agree to the child traveling and sign for the child’s passport. If one parent refuses to sign, the Department of State may then decide to grant or deny the passport based on the circumstances of the couple’s divorce.

Moving the Child Out of the Country

International abduction describes any instance of a child being taken across national borders without legal permission. If a parent has sole custody of a child and decides to permanently relocate to another country, he or she may do so without the other parent’s consent. However, if custody is shared in any capacity, the moving parent must have the court’s permission to relocate to another country. The court will assess whether such a move would be in the child’s best interests.

If a parent attempts to take a child out of the country without the appropriate level of custody and the required permissions, he or she may be in violation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Treaty. This treaty comprises 45 countries. If the parent attempts to take the child to any of these 45 countries illegally, then the child will be immediately returned to the United States.

Know Your Rights and Legal Status

It is imperative – both for your own sake and the sake of your children – that you fully understand every aspect of your custody agreement after a divorce. Failure to do so can result in legal entanglements and adjustments to your custody agreement if the court deems it necessary. For example, if you are caught trying to take your child out of the country illegally, the court may adjust your custody arrangements if it deems such a move would not be in the child’s best interests and that you pose a danger of attempting such behavior again in the future.

If you must develop a custody agreement due to a divorce, connect with a California attorney experienced in family law. In addition to laying any worries about the custody of your child to rest, your attorney will ensure that you are completely informed about what you can and cannot do with your child to avoid any potential legal problems.