Can one parent prevent another parent from leaving the country with their child(ren)? Maybe under one of these programs: the Prevent Departure Program and the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
You may remember Kelly Rutherford’s well-publicized 2015 custody battle with her ex-husband over her two kids. Ms. Rutherford was fighting for her two small children to remain in the United States, rather than with her ex who lived abroad in countries like France and Monaco. In a seemingly surprising turn of events, the courts ruled that the children would live with their father in Monaco and would stay with their mother in the summer for 6 weeks in the States. Rutherford didn’t stop fighting though and petitioned courts in both California and New York to accept jurisdiction of her case so she could continue fighting for her kids. She was working against a court order to put her kids on a plane back to their father in Monaco at the end of their 6-week stay in June of 2015. When both states denied jurisdiction, though, Rutherford refused to send her kids back to Monaco. Her ex retaliated, lambasting her as a child abductor and demanding she return the children immediately.
As her story played out on the pages of every magazine and tabloid, parents across the globe were living their worst nightmare through her. “What’s going to happen next? Can she really be accused of abducting her own children? What if this was me? What if this was my ex? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen to me?” While Rutherford’s case is one of many dramatic Hollywood stories we have to digest, it is not an uncommon occurrence; and it is certainly not something that can only happen to the rich and famous. Parental abduction or parental kidnapping of a child is a frighteningly common occurrence in the United States and it can happen across state lines or on an international scale. In an effort to avoid these frightening and dangerous situations, the U.S. government, in conjunction with agencies across the globe, has implemented the Prevent Departure Program and the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
What is the Prevent Departure Program?
Unfortunately, there are no provisions in the United States that effectively prohibit the unauthorized departure of a child under the age of 18 from the country. A child can leave the U.S. without anyone checking the child’s papers and with no check of the relationship of the child and the person accompanying the child, except that the airlines will ultimately check to make sure the child has the proper papers to enter a foreign country. However, the Department of Homeland Security operates a Prevent Departure Program that was implemented in the aftermath of September 11th to stop non-U.S. citizens from leaving the country. Although the program was initially created to prevent the travel of known and suspected terrorists, the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. State Department has been successful in extending it to include the prevention of international child abductions.
The program operates through the transportation industry and provides a database of subjects whose imminent departure can be flagged. If a named abductor or child attempts to leave the country by means of a public carrier (like an airline), the transportation company is required to prevent the departure. Whether or not the abductor is arrested depends on the terms of any arrest warrant or court order that may be in place. The requirements for the program are:
- The parent whose name is being added to the program must be a not be a U.S. citizen (this includes a dual national);
- A law enforcement agency, with an ability to contact them 24/7, must be included in the application;
- A court order showing which parent was awarded custody or that shows the non-citizen parent is not allowed to remove the child from certain countries, the state or the U.S. must be in place;
- The non-citizen parents must be in the U.S. at the time of the application;
- Likelihood that the non-citizen parent will attempt to abduct the child in the near future must exist.
Attempts by the Government Accountability Office to have the Department of Homeland Security consider creating a program that would extend these same protections to U.S. citizens have not be acted upon.
What is the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program?
Parents may enroll their U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 in the Children’s Passport Issuance Program (CPIAP), one of the Department of State’s most important tools for preventing international parental child abduction. If a passport application is submitted for a child enrolled in the CPIAP, the program allows the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues to contact the requesting parent(s) to verify whether they approve passport issuance.
Along with your CPIAP request, you must submit proof of your relationship with the child. This can be a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate or a court order that grants you custodial rights or legal guardianship over the child. Failure to present the necessary proof may result in a passport issuance without your consent or notifications. Additionally, request for enrollment in the CPIAP can be submitted by law enforcement or a court or by someone acting on behalf of a parent (i.e. an attorney or another family member).
This program does not apply to foreign passports and it’s important to remember that the U.S. does not have exit controls. This means that any U.S. citizen can leave the country without interference from or detection from the U.S. Law enforcement generally will not prevent a child from leaving the U.S. unless there is a court order clearly preventing the removal of the child from the United States.
Let us help you.
If you are concerned about international parental child abduction, you should call an experienced attorney as soon as possible. One of Ferrante and Dill’s founding partners and Family Law attorney, Jennifer Dill, can help you find ways in which the court may assist you in your prevention efforts. You can give her a call today at (410) 535-6100 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.