How do you get a child passport when one parent is absent? What if one parent refuses to sign the passport application? If you need one, how do you get a court order for a child passport? We’ve got the answers to all these and more!
International travel with your kiddos is fun but it, without a doubt, requires more legal groundwork than domestic travel. In the United States, minor children [under the age of 16] are required to have both parents’ consent to obtain a passport. That means if there are two parties listed on the birth certificate, then both must be present with the child when you submit an application on their behalf.
[Please note: I am not a legal professional. This blog post is strictly informational to share our experience and our feedback on what worked for us. I see this question in forums all the time and I want to share how we walked through it.]
Options When a Parent Refuses to Sign Passport Application
I had our youngest kid, Bug, as a single mother. Her father and I were not wed but we signed an affidavit acknowledging paternity at her birth which resulted in both of our names going on her birth certificate. [Click here to read more about our blended family.]
Unlike adult passports, child passports only last for 5 years. They cannot be renewed and when it expires, you must submit a new application and go through the process from scratch. That means every 5 years both parents and the child must show at a passport application facility.
Bug’s biological father signed for her initial passport but refused to sign the passport application for her second one. His reason was that he was afraid I would take her out of the country. Well, duh – that’s exactly my intention [hello, Spring Break Trips!].
If a parent refuses to sign a passport application, there aren’t any forms you can fill out to get around it. The law is clear and is designed to protect against international parental child abduction. You will have to pursue legal action and obtain the legal right to obtain [and hold] a passport for your child.
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GETTING A PASSPORT FOR A MINOR WITHOUT BOTH PARENTS [Save this post] We spent a good chunk of 2019 laying the legal framework around the custody needs of this little momma. Her biological father refused to sign for another passport. There are a few options for those dealing with an absentee parent but wish to seek a passport for their child. But the only surefire way IMO is to get legal custody – or as they call it here in Texas sole (or primary) conservatorship. *𝐈 𝐀𝐌 𝐍𝐎𝐓 𝐀 𝐋𝐄𝐆𝐀𝐋 𝐏𝐑𝐎𝐅𝐄𝐒𝐒𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐀𝐋. 𝐉𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝐒𝐇𝐀𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐌𝐘 𝐏𝐄𝐑𝐒𝐎𝐍𝐀𝐋 𝐄𝐗𝐏𝐄𝐑𝐈𝐄𝐍𝐂𝐄* Conservatorship comes with a lot of rights and is a bigger blanket of coverage than you need for a passport. But it will have these magical words: “It is ordered that [INSERT NAME HERE] shall have the exclusive right to apply for and maintain a passport for the child, [INSERT NAME HERE].” 🤸♂️💃 🥳 𝗪𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐘𝐎𝐔 𝐍𝐄𝐄𝐃 𝐓𝐎 𝐊𝐍𝐎𝗪: – This process is expensive and time consuming – My lawyer was $2000 (I shopped around and she was actually one of the less expensive options 😭) – Legal, filing, and misc fees were an additional ~$300. – The process took 6+ months and included two separate court appearances. The other parent is given time to respond to the petition and the clock doesn’t start until he officially receives it (Fun Fact: several of the processors called my ex Houdini because he kept dodging being served 🙄 ) – If you want to change your child’s legal name add 6+ months. – This can take MUCH longer if the other party decides to challenge the petition. – If you were married to your ex, check your divorce decree for verbiage around this before going this route. – If your ex-partner is incarcerated or deployed, there is a different process to follow. – None of this applies if you are the only name on the birth certificate. Just submit your passport application like normal and then get #flewedout (do folks still say that? 😂) Have you done this process before? Drop any questions in the comments below!
How To Get a Court Order for Child Passport
A court order to obtain a child passport is exactly what it says: a document provided by the court of law that explicitly states that you can obtain a child passport without consent from the other parent.
The majority of the time, this right is wrapped into a larger case of gaining full legal authority. Some states call it full legal custody. In Texas, it is called sole managing conservatorship. However, they all do the same thing. It means that you can make legal decisions for your child – including the decision to obtain a passport – without any other special forms or permission granted.
Sounds great, right? Now that we’ve completed this process, it is so incredibly freeing to have this right. Our court order has those magic words: “It is ordered that Monty shall have the exclusive right to apply for and maintain a passport for the child, Bug.” Relief in one sentence.
Things you need to know about how to get a court order for a child passport
- Most hire a lawyer to complete this process and it can be costly. Unless you get a bargain on your legal representation, it will be expensive. Our lawyer was $2000 plus an additional ~$300 in legal, filing, and miscellaneous fees. You can also file the paperwork yourself if you feel comfortable doing so. Just look for your state’s process.
- The process to obtain a court order for child passport is long. Our process took 6+ months and included two separate court appearances. The other parent is given time to respond to the petition and the clock doesn’t start until they receive the request.
- You can also use this process to change your child’s last name if you so desire. Add an additional 6+ months to the process to do this. If that will push back your travel time frame, you can obtain a passport with the current surname and court order for a passport and then get another passport [for an additional fee] after the name is changed.
- If your ex-partner is incarcerated or deployed, there is a different process to follow. Please refer to the Department of State’s website for more details.
- If you were married to your ex, check your divorce decree for verbiage around this before going this route. If you’re not yet divorced but plan to be soon, include this in your decree to avoid trouble later.
As a reminder, none of this is needed if you are the only parent listed on the birth certificate. If no one else is listed, you can submit your child’s passport application as normal.
How to Get a Child Passport With One Parent Absent
OK but let’s say your child’s non-custodial parent isn’t refusing to sign the passport application. He [or she] is just unavailable, uncommunicative, or uninvolved. Fortunately, the Department of State clearly lays out how to get a child passport with one parent absent.
How To Get a Child Passport With One Parent Unable to Appear
If they’re willing to give consent but cannot travel to the same location as you and your kid to obtain a passport, then they will have to provide a statement of consent. Formally called Form DS-3053, this form must be filled out by the absent parent and signed in front of a notary.
They will then send it to you [along with a front and back single-sided copy of their driver’s license] so that you can submit it with your child’s passport application.
If everything is in order, this works the large majority of the time.
How to Get a Child Passport When You Cannot Locate The Other Parent
If you are unable to get in touch with the other parent, the Department of State allows you to submit a Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances [Form DS-5525]. It is basically intended to be a confessional explaining in as much detail as possible why you are unable to locate or get in touch with the other parent. Most of the time, they want supporting documentation to back up your explanation.
Some scenarios are cut and dry [like for example, the other parent is incarcerated and will not be released soon or you have a restraining order out on the other parent that prohibits contact]. However, other scenarios [like in my case, he simply would not respond to any of my text messages, e-mails, or phone calls] the success rate varies. I’ve heard stories from many parents that tried this route and had their applications denied after 6-8 weeks of waiting.
If you’d like a “sure-fire” way to obtain a passport for your child when you cannot locate the other parent, then you should obtain a court order for a child passport. However, if your travel time frame allows, this is a less expensive option to try first.