Can I Take My Child Internationally Under Custody?

Posted in Child Custody on June 5, 2022

If you were given custody of your child in a divorce or legal separation in California, you may assume you have the right to travel with your child internationally. There are rules you must obey as a divorced co-parent, however, even if you have full or primary custody. Before you travel or relocate internationally with your child, make sure you have the legal authority to do so under California law and the terms of your custody agreement.

Understand California’s Parental Move-Away or Relocation Laws

First, understand that the rules are different if you plan on going overseas temporarily, such as for a vacation, vs. permanently relocating to a foreign country with your child. If you wish to move to a different country while your co-parent still lives in the States, it will be difficult to obtain the court’s permission.

In general, the courts hold that a child is better off when he or she can remain in meaningful and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If one parent moves out of the country, it makes this difficult or impossible. For this reason, most requests to move a child out of the country are denied if the other parent does not agree with the move.

California’s parental relocation and child move-away laws state that a parent can only move away with a child if the parent has a permanent order for sole custody and the move will not harm the child. If you were given sole custody, also known as primary physical custody, of your child, you have the right to move away internationally. However, your ex-spouse also has the right to dispute the move by arguing that it would harm the child.

If you and your ex were given joint (shared) physical custody of the child and your ex-spouse does not agree with the move, you will need to prove that it is in the best interest of the child. For the same reason mentioned above, this request will almost always be denied, as moving overseas would make it impossible for your ex-spouse to receive his or her parenting time.

Check the Conditions of Your Custody Agreement

The odds of being allowed to take your child internationally on a short-term trip or vacation are much higher than moving to a different country entirely. You will still need to obtain permission from the courts to have the legal authority to travel, however, before you go anywhere. Skipping this step could lead to severe legal trouble for parental abduction.

Start by checking the terms and conditions of your child custody agreement. Most court orders for child custody have restrictions on one parent leaving the state or country with the child. These restrictions generally require the parent wishing to travel internationally to obtain a court order granting special permission to do so.

Communicate With Your Ex-Spouse

The easiest way to take your child internationally while you have custody is to obtain your ex-spouse’s written permission. If the other parent grants permission for you to travel internationally with the child, you will be free to leave without legal ramifications. You may be able to work something out with your ex-spouse if the travel will infringe upon his or her parenting time, such as giving up some of your parenting time in exchange when you return. Make sure you have the consent in writing, however, and still go to a judge for an official court order. Otherwise, your ex could potentially change his or her mind and accuse you of kidnapping.

Defend Your Case in Court

If your ex-spouse refuses to give you permission to travel outside of the country with your child, your other option is to go up against your ex to argue against the refusal in court. If your ex is refusing out of spite, for example, demonstrating that the travel would not harm your child may lead to a court order granting you permission.

If you are planning a longer-term trip, however, such as an entire summer abroad, your ex may have a valid argument based on his or her custodial rights. Every case is unique. For more information and advice about taking your child internationally under custody in California, contact Ratzer|Dobis for a free consultation with an attorney.