Can Divorced Mothers Take Their Children Out of the Country?

By Ciele Edwards

Mother and daughter looking out airport window

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If you have ties to another country, you may wish to take your child with you to visit. If you are divorced, the custody arrangement to which you and your former spouse adhere determines what steps you must take before leaving the country with your child. The United States Department of Justice notes that because foreign laws often differ considerably from U.S. law, international parental abductions are harder to resolve. Placing restrictions on international travel with children – even for the custodial parent – helps prevent these abductions from occurring.

Travel Consent

Before making arrangements to leave the country, check your custody decree. According to the U.S. Department of State, some custody decrees contain restrictions or criteria you must meet before traveling internationally with your child. If you disregard the requirements noted in the custody decree, you could be arrested and charged with kidnapping. While all custody agreements differ, a divorced mother must generally obtain written permission from the child's father before taking the child out of the country.

Sole Custody

In some cases, a divorced mother has sole custody of her children. A mother with sole custody has the right to make all major decisions about the child's welfare without consulting with her ex-husband. This includes deciding whether or not to travel internationally with her child. A divorced mother must be able to prove sole custody at the border by providing court documents noting this fact or, if her ex-husband is deceased, a copy of his death certificate.


U.S. Law requires the signatures of both parents on a child's passport application. If a child's father objects to the child's mother traveling internationally with the child, he can prevent the child from leaving the country by refusing to sign for the child's passport. If the child's health is at stake, the Secretary of State has the authority to grant a passport to a child even if the father objects. A divorced mother with sole custody does not need permission from her ex-husband to obtain a passport for her child.


If a divorced mother intends to permanently relocate to another country with her child and she lacks sole custody, she must typically obtain the court's permission before doing so. The court will evaluate the circumstances surrounding the move and a judge will decide if the move is in the child's best interests. The American Bar Association notes that any country that signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction treaty will immediately return an abducted child to the United States if his parent removed him from the United States without the court's permission. A total of 45 countries adhere to the Hague Convention treaty.