IowaIowa

Passports and Child Custody

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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Do I need custody to get my child a passport?

There are special rules to get a passport for a child who is younger than 16. These rules help prevent international child abduction. They can be confusing, especially for parents who are no longer together. Many parents think they need “full custody” to get passports. That is not always true. Other options include:

  • Both parents can consent to the passport.
  • One parent can show he or she has authority to get the passport.
  • A parent can ask the government for permission to get the passport without the other parent.

Both parents consent.

Both parents or guardians can apply in person together for their child’s passport. A parent who can’t apply in person can consent by completing form Form DS-3053 and signing it in front of a notary. The consent form is valid for three months. The parent who will apply in person should take the other parent’s consent form to the passport office.

One parent shows proof of legal authority to get the passport.

Some children have just one legal parent. Or, even if a child has two legal parents, one might have authority to make this decision without the other. For example:

  • The child’s other parent died.
  • The child’s birth certificate or adoption decree lists only one parent.
  • A judge declared one parent incompetent.
  • There is a court order that awards legal custody to one parent only. Legal custody is decision-making authority, not where the child lives. Read custody orders carefully. The court order may specifically say that a parent is not allowed to travel with the child, even if that parent has legal or physical custody. If the court order says travel with the child is not allowed, a parent will need to go back to court to change the order.
  • Or, a court order may specifically say one parent is allowed to travel with the child, even if he doesn’t have legal or physical custody.

In any of these situations, the parent applying for the passport should bring the court order, birth certificate or death certificate to the passport office.

It is possible to go to court for permission to get a passport or be allowed to travel with the child.

One parent requests permission from the U.S. Department of State to get the passport without the other parent.

Parents who can’t get the other parent’s consent and don’t have the authority described above, can explain the situation on Form DS-5525. The parent asks the government to make an exception to the usual rules. This could be for an emergency that affects the child’s health or welfare. Or, it might be because it is extremely difficult to get the other parent’s consent. A parent who can’t find the other will need to explain. Remember, the rules about children’s passports were made to prevent international abduction. The Department of State may ask for additional details or documentation of the circumstances, or may deny the parent’s request.

All parents who apply for a child’s passport must pay a fee, complete an application (Form DS-11), and provide:

  • proof of the child’s U.S. citizenship
  • proof of parental relationship to the child
  • photo ID of parents/guardians
  • child’s passport photo

All forms must be completed in English. The forms must be signed in front of a passport agent, but it’s best to fill in the rest of the information ahead of time. If you do not understand English, you will need to find your own interpreter.

Find out more about children’s passports at the U.S. Department of State website, or a different article on the Iowa Legal Aid website. If you have questions, call the National Passport Center at 1-877-487-2778. Spanish-speaking staff is available.

Last Review and Update: Mar 19, 2014
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