Los Angeles is famous for being one big melting pot, and one result of
this is we have lots of people from foreign nations who live and work
here. Some of these people have Green Cards. Some of them are in the United
States on a visa, while others have dual citizenship or are naturalized
Because LA is home to so many immigrants, it creates a unique issue for
divorcing and divorced parents. Sometimes, the U.S. citizen spouse is
concerned that their former husband or wife will take the children and
flee to their home country, or that they’ll take a family vacation
to the parent’s native country and they’ll refuse to return
the children to the U.S. This was portrayed in the Sally Field movie,
Not Without My Daughter, and the struggles depicted by Field have been burned in the memories of
divorcing parents all over the world.
What if Your Spouse is an Immigrant?
What about you? Is your husband or wife from a foreign nation? If so, are
you afraid that he or she will take your kids to their home country? What
if you have a custody order in Los Angeles, will your American custody
order work if your spouse flees to their native country with your children?
Or, is there NOTHING you can do?
Don’t panic, but don’t sit around and wait for the worst to
happen either. There are laws that protect you, but you need to act fast.
There is an international treaty called the Hague Convention, which deals
with international child abductions – this is going to be your primary
tool if your fears are realized.
Under the Hague Convention, if a parent abducts a child and takes the child
to a foreign country, the parent will be ordered to immediately return
the child to the U.S. The Convention applies to most of Europe and a number
of westernized countries. It also applies to parts of Africa and South
America, and the Middle East – the pro-Western regions specifically.
The treaty does not say which parent gets custody of a child who is internationally
abducted. Instead, it addresses sending children back to the countries
where they came from. If your spouse or former spouse abducts your children
without your consent and takes them overseas, your children may be returned
to the U.S. if:
- They are under the age of 16 and were abducted to a country that is a member
of the Hague Convention.
- Someone removed them from the U.S. and kept them in the foreign country
that is a member of the Convention.
- The foreign abduction violated your legal rights to custody, visitation,
or legal custody.
- Your children are presently in a country that is one of the members of
When Do I Make a Claim Under the Convention?
If your spouse (or former spouse) does abduct your children and take them
to a foreign country, you must take immediate action. Under the Convention,
parents usually have one year of the removal to make a claim and have
a judge look at their case. If a parent misses this small window, the
judge will likely consider how well the children are adjusting to their
new life overseas. In these situations, the judge could make a decision
much like he or she would in a traditional child custody hearing.
Do you think you may have a Hague case? If so, you’ll need a child
custody attorney to help you file a Hague Convention Application with
the local Hague Central Authority. Here in the U.S., our central authority
for children who are internationally abducted is the
U.S. State Department Office of Children’s Issues.
How Can I Find Out if My Spouse Obtained Passports?
Fortunately, there are ways for you to find out if your spouse has obtained
passports for your children without your knowledge. The State Department
has established what’s called the
Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP), which is not a tracking system, but it is a lookout system. This
program can provide information to a court or parent in case a passport
application has been submitted on behalf of a child.
Under the CPIAP program, let’s say there is a court order that prohibits
a child from travelling outside the U.S., that grants joint custody, or
grants custody to the parent who is not applying for a passport. In this
case, the State Department will deny a passport request that is submitted
for the children.
If you are worried about your spouse taking your children out of the country
without your permission or knowledge, you can send a written request to
the State Department asking the Department to notify you or the court
if your spouse submits an application for a passport on behalf of your
children. This system would remain in effect until your child turns 18,
or until you send a written request asking it to be ended.
If you are interested in registering your children in the system, file
a written request with the State Department. To download the applicable form,
What About Dual Citizenship?
If your child has dual citizenship, this is probably because his or her
other parent is a foreign national. Meaning, they are not a U.S. citizen.
If your child cannot obtain a U.S. passport because of the reasons we
explained, it doesn’t mean he or she can’t travel on the other
nation’s passport. If your child has dual citizenship, our advice
is to contact the other country’s consulate or embassy and ask about
children with dual citizenship and how their passports can be denied under
that country’s rules.