Child Passports & Custody Within and Outside the United States and Legal Documents for Children

With the warm weather coming and COVID restrictions slllloooowly lifting, parents are starting to think about travel with their children again. Within the United States and its territories, you do not need to worry about passports. But, what if you are thinking about taking minors on a vacation outside the country? Do they have passports? Are you considering applying for passports? After 9-11, the rules about obtaining passports for minors changed and grew more challenging. We strongly encourage you to not wait until right before a trip to address this issue with the other parent and with your attorney. If addressed in advance, these matters can run smoothly.

The following provides a very brief overview of the basics important facts. Of course, every case is different, so the exact advice might vary.


The general rule is that all children under age 16 must apply for a passport in person with two parents or guardians, following the rules set forth on the State Department website.

If one parent cannot appear in person with the other parent to apply for the passport but is agreeable to the child obtaining the passport, there is a Statement of Consent form that can be utilized (see State Department website for more information).

The consent of the other parent is not required in certain circumstances (from the State Department website):

  • Complete court order granting you sole legal custody of the child, such as a divorce decree or other custody order
  • Complete court order specifically permitting you to apply for your child’s passport (photocopy is acceptable)
  • Certified copy of the child’s birth certificate listing you as the only parent
  • Certified copy of an adoption decree listing you as the only parent
  • Certified copy of the judicial declaration of incompetence of the parent that cannot appear in person
  • Certified copy of the death certificate of the parent that cannot appear in person

In these circumstances, among many other steps, the above document(s) would be submitted along with the passport application. Some of these options require legal documents your attorney can help you with. Confirm with your attorney that your legal documents are clear.

What if the parent is AWOL and the above exceptions do not apply? There is a Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances that can be filled out and submitted to try to convince the State Department to issue the passport without that other parent’s consent. There is no guarantee of success.


Most applicants age 16-17 must apply in person, following the required steps. A minor who is 16 or 17 must show “parental awareness” when applying, which means that at least one parent or guardian knows that that minor is applying for a passport. (The State Department describes exactly what constitutes parental awareness). But, be aware that there is important caveat. A passport application under these circumstances may be denied if the State Department has received written objection to the issuance of a passport from one of the parents or legal guardians. (Enrolling in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program is an excellent way to prevent a parent from fraudulently obtaining a passport). Again, the legal status of the parents and other legal documents can make a different in this situation.

The U.S. Department of State also has additional specific information and forms to guide you through this process.