Know the Laws:
UPDATED April 19, 2011
If you are afraid that the other parent will take your children away without your consent, you might be able to ask the judge to issue an emergency custody order, which most states provide. You may want to ask the judge to include in the order that the other parent cannot take the children out of the state, or that the other parent may only have supervised visitation. Please see Can I get temporary emergency custody? for more information as to what factors a judge might consider when deciding whether or not to grant emergency custody. You can also go to the Custody section of your state for more information.
Depending on your state's restraining order laws, a threat to take your child and leave the state might also possibly qualify you for a restraining order. You can read more about your state's laws on our Restraining Orders page.
The answer to this question is very complicated and may depend on many different factors. The laws on parental kidnapping (also known as custodial interference) are different in each state. In some states, it may be against the law to take children out of state only if it violates a custody order or if there is an active custody case pending. In other states, the act of taking the children out of state itself may not be illegal unless the parent conceals (hides) the children from the other parent. Other factors that may be considered are whether the parents are married (and considered to have equal parental rights) or, in the case of unmarried parents, whether the father's paternity has been legally established. Also, there could be a big difference if the other parent is planning a brief visit out of state, a long absence, or if s/he is planning on moving out of state for a long time. We strongly suggest talking to a lawyer who specializes in custody matters and/or a prosecutor to find out if the other parent's actions are legal or not. See our Finding a Lawyer page for information about resources in your state.
If you are in the middle of a custody case in court, you may be able to ask the judge to seize (hold onto) the child's passport. If there is no ongoing case, perhaps you may even be able to file for a restraining order if you qualify and ask the judge to hold the child's passport as part of that case.
If the child does not have a passport but you fear the other parent may apply for one for the child, the State Department has a program called the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program. The program is explained as follows:
"The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) is one of the Department’s most important tools for preventing international parental child abduction. The program allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 in the Department’s Passport Lookout System. If a passport application is submitted for a child who is registered in CPIAP, the Department contacts and alerts the parent or parents. The passport lookout system gives all U.S. passport agencies as well as U.S. embassies and consulates abroad an alert on a child’s name if a parent or guardian registers an objection to passport issuance for his or her child. This procedure provides parents advance warning of possible plans for international travel with the child."
See the State Department's Child Abduction Prevention page for more information.
To enter your child into the program, you will have to complete the Entry Request Form, provide proof of your identity (a photocopy of your driver's license or other ID card), and submit a photocopy of your child's birth certificate or other documentation to show that you are the child's parent or legal guardian.
Mail, fax or email these items to Passport Services, Charleston Passport Center:
U.S. Department of State
Passport Services, Charleston Passport Center
Attn: Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program
1269 Holland Street, Building D
Charleston, SC 29405
Note: If your child has dual citizenship, then s/he may be able to travel out of the country on the passport of the foreign country. The State Department cannot regulate passports from a different country, so you may want to contact that country's embassy or consulate to ask if they have a similar program. You will find contact information for embassies and consulates at http://www.travel.state.gov under U.S. Embassies & Consulates on the top right-hand corner of the screen.