Can I Travel Internationally With My Child Under a Missouri Custody Order?

Father and son wearing masks traveling by plane. Concept for Travel Internationally With My Child Under a Custody Order.

Parents often travel with children for a variety of purposes, such as visiting family or going on vacation. It is easy to take the ability to travel with one’s own children for granted, but when a child is subject to a Missouri child custody order, each parent’s rights may depend on what the order says. A custody order might set strict limits on travel outside of Missouri with a child, let alone out of the country. If you have questions about whether you will be able to take an international trip with your child or children, a family attorney with experience in Missouri law can review your custody order and parenting plan, advise you of your options, and help you assert your rights.

Interstate vs. International Travel

Missouri family law gives courts rather wide discretion to restrict parents’ ability to take their children out of the state. Note that these limits often apply to travel outside of the state of Missouri, not just international travel. Typically, a limit on out-of-state travel means that a parent may not take their child across state lines or a national border without the other parent’s permission or an order from the court.

These restrictions are important because once a child is outside of the state of Missouri, they are outside the jurisdiction of Missouri courts. Most parents who travel out of state with their child have no intention of hiding them from the court or the other parent, of course, but our legal system often tends to assume the worst.

Missouri has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which provides for the enforcement of child custody orders across state lines. Judges would usually rather prevent interstate custody issues from arising in the first place.

International travel presents an even more complicated problem, at least potentially. The UCCJEA only applies within the United States. An international treaty, rather ominously known as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, governs the enforcement of Missouri child custody orders in other countries, provided that they are also signatories to the treaty. Missouri law specifically allows judges to take the “​​potential risk of international abduction of the child by either party” into account when setting travel restrictions.

Terms of the Child Custody Order

Whether or not you are subject to travel restrictions depends on the specific provisions of your child custody order, which in turn depends on your and your family’s circumstances. Many custody orders require permission from the other parent or the court for any out-of-state travel. Some orders set no restrictions at all. A custody order may have different restrictions for different states. A Missouri judge might order, for example, that a parent can travel with the child to a neighboring state like Kansas or Illinois without permission, but not to more distant states such as California or Florida. A requirement for permission prior to any international travel is common in custody orders.

The type of custody granted to each parent is also important. Requiring both parents’ permission is most common in joint custody situations. A parent with sole physical and legal custody of a child, on the other hand, might not need the other parent’s permission to travel, although they might have to notify them prior to the trip.

Seeking Permission for International Travel

If you want to take your child on an international trip, you might have to get permission to do so, either from the child’s other parent or from the court.

Permission from the Co-Parent

Ideally, you can get the other parent’s consent for the trip. This provides the least complicated way forward since you can be sure that you will have the child’s passport and any other necessary documentation. TSA and customs officials sometimes ask for documentation of a parent’s right to travel out of the country with a child. Having a signed consent form from the other parent can be helpful.

Permission from the Court

If the other parent does not agree to the travel, or if you cannot reach them at all, you may ask the court to grant you permission to take the child on the trip. The judge will want to know about your travel plans and the reasons for the trip. They will want to confirm that the trip will not conflict with the other parent’s visitation rights.

Emergency Travel

The above scenarios assume that you are able to plan a trip well in advance. You might need to make travel plans quickly, though, such as if you have family in another country and an emergency occurs. You must still get permission in order to make the trip with the child, but you might be able to get an order from the court on an emergency basis without a full hearing.

What to Do if a Parent Travels Internationally Without Permission

If the child’s other parent takes them out of the country without first getting your permission or asking the court, you have rights under Missouri law. Most of the legal framework for unauthorized international trips assumes that a parent has fled the country with a child, and therefore focuses on bringing both of them back to the U.S. If you believe that this is simply a vacation, you might just wait until they return from the trip. You can then ask the court to hold the other parent in contempt for violating the custody order.

Family attorney Mark A. Wortman has dedicated 100% of his practice to representing people in the Kansas City area who are dealing with child custody disputes, divorces, and other family law matters. Please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.