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Travel Outside Canada: Will My Child Custody Arrangement Be Recognized?

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Recently I wrote about how to apply for a Canadian Passport for a child. But with the prospect of Canadian children travelling abroad, separated or divorced parents may have concerns over what might happen if their child custody issues flare up while they are at their destinations or even en route. Here are some things to think about:

First Things First

• Long before you even decide to travel with your child out of Canada, make sure your specific custody agreement or separation/divorce order allows it. This may involve some consultation with a lawyer, but it will avoid last-minute disputes or disappointments after you have already incurred the expense of travel.

• Make sure you have a Letter or Permission (sometimes called a Letter of Consent), signed by the other parent, which gives you his or her permission to enter or leave the country with the child. Although it is not a legal requirement in Canada, it can make travel much easier because some foreign immigration authorities may ask to see it before allowing you to enter or leave.

• Ensure that you have proper identification for both you and your child. This includes not only a valid Passport for each of you, but also evidence of residency, and documents to provide evidence of your custodial rights as well.

• Consult with the Government of Canada website [link to] that provide various Guides for parents considering travel with their children.

Could My Canada-Issued Custody Order Come into Question?

Be prepared for the possibility that your Canadian child custody order – though validly issued and fully enforceable in Canada – may not automatically be recognized in the country to which you are travelling. This may result in difficulties when leaving the country.

In countries where you think this may become an issue, you may want to confirm your own status or that of your child with the country’s Embassy or Consulate in Canada, before you travel.

What if a Custody Issue Arises While We Are Away?

Ideally, you and your child will be travelling with either the written consent of the other parent, or with proof of court-ordered entitlement. However, in some unfortunate situations, a custody dispute might arise while you and your child are abroad.

In that case, you can contact the Case Management Division of Global Affairs Canada. These officials can provide you with information about:

• The legal system in which you are travelling, and specifically relating to family law and local customs;

• The contact information for local lawyers, as well as that of family counsellors and social workers; and

• How to answer questions posed by local officials as to the purpose and certification of the Letter of Permission that you have supplied in the course of travelling.

These officials may also serve as a liaison for you between local authorities and Canadian ones (such as law enforcement, social services, etc.).

With that said, note that Canadian government officials located abroad do not have authority to:

• Intervene in private legal matters (including your family and custody dispute);

• Provide legal advice;

• Take legal procedural steps towards enforcing your Canadian custody agreement in that other country;

• Force the other country to make a specific determination in your custody case; or

• Provide financial assistance to you in connection with pursuing your legal rights, or for travel, accommodation or other expenses.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.