International child abduction can be an especially challenging situation for a primary custodial parent due to the complexity and cost of finding a noncustodial parent and child overseas and coordinating with international court systems. International abduction can occur in the course of custody disputes when one parent takes a child to another country and does not return. The Department of State has a program to help prevent international child abduction.
Parents may enroll their United States citizen children in the Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. Once enrolled, if a passport application is submitted for a child, The Department of State alerts the enrolling parent and requests consent for international travel. To enroll, submit proof of your legal relationship to the child. This could be a copy of the child’s birth certificate or a court order granting you custodial rights or legal guardianship over the child. Requests for enrollment can also be submitted by law enforcement, a court or an attorney.
Once enrolled, a parent can still consent to the issuance of a passport but will be notified of any application. In addition, a passport may be issued without the consent of both parents or legal guardians if the applicant establishes that there is a court order providing the applicant parent or guardian with sole custody of the child, or specifically authorizing the parent or guardian to travel internationally with the child.
Law enforcement, however, will generally not prevent a child from leaving the country unless there is a court order prohibiting the removal of the child from the United States. Therefore, if you want to prevent removal and you have grounds to establish an intent to abduct, you should obtain a court order and provide that to the Department of State. An attorney can assist you in filing the necessary paperwork to enroll in the Passport Alert Program or if warranted to obtain a court order preventing removal.