Passports for Children – Some Ins and Outs

One issue that I see regularly in my family practice is the difficulty in obtaining passports for children under the age of 16 years.

When parents are divorced or separated, the parent who has custody of the child is the one who is entitled to apply for a passport.Ready to Travel

You would think it would be that easy.

It’s not.

It is my experience that, unless a court order specifically says that one parent has sole custody, Passport Canada will not issue a passport unless BOTH parents sign the application. The reason, it seems, is that the rules used by Passport Canada specifically refer to the terms of “custody” and “access”.

In this day and age, there often is no designation in court orders or agreements as to custody but rather they state that the parents have joint custody and that the child’s primary residence is one parent or the other. Further, under the new Family Law Act, which came into force in British Columbia on 18 March 2013, there is no longer any reference to “custody” at all, but rather it speaks of “parenting responsibilities”.  The term “access” is also gone and has been replaced with “parenting time” or “contact”. Only in the Divorce Act are the terms custody and access still used.

When an agreement or order says that the parents have joint custody, or there is no reference to custody at all but only primary residence, or references only to parenting responsibilities and parenting time or contact, Passport Canada will not issue the passport without both parents’ signatures.

Most often parents remain in proximity to each other but there are times when one parent or the other moves away or in some cases even loses contact with the child and in those cases getting a passport for a child can be problematic.

So what is the solution?

It is always simplest to think ahead and make provisions in the court order or agreement for obtaining a passport.

One possible way to avoid future problems is to designate one parent as having sole custody for purposes only of obtaining or renewing a child’s passport.

Or, if you are concerned that the other parent will try to obtain a passport without your consent, a term could be added that for purposes of obtaining a passport the parties have joint custody, thereby ensuring a passport will not be issued without both parents’ signatures.

The agreement or court order should also set out who will hold the passport between travel times and when and on what conditions it will be provided to the traveling parent. Dealing with the issues in advance will make things much easier in the long run.

What if you are concerned a passport will be issued without your consent?

Passport Canada has a system called Passport System Lookout. You can apply to register your child by making a request in writing and faxing it to Passport Canada at 1-819-953-5856.   Registration does not prevent a passport being issued or being renewed nor does it prevent travel but it will be an alert to Passport Canada, and you may be contacted if someone tries to obtain a passport for your child.

Travel Consent Letter

Aside from a passport, it is important to have along a travel consent letter from the non-traveling parent  whenever traveling outside of the country with a child.  There is no guarantee of entry into another country even with a travel consent letter, but it will be requested in many circumstances. For example, most often, if you travel to the United States by car or air, you will be asked to produce a travel consent letter, especially if the last name of the child is different from yours.

There is a Travel Consent Letter Form for use on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website which you can fill out.  This form of travel consent letter is recognized by the government which is something to consider to avoid travel difficulties. The travel consent letter does need to be signed in the presence of a lawyer or notary but you can fill it out and take it to the notary or lawyer if you choose.

To avoid the necessity of getting a travel consent letter every time you travel, parents can give each other “blanket” travel consent letters. This is ideal if, as parents, you have trust and confidence in each other. Most often parents require travel letters to be provided each separate occasion.

As with the passport issue, any agreement or order should contain terms requiring parents to provide travel consent letters on a reasonable request.

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