How To Travel or Live Abroad With Kids When Your Ex Says NO!

So you want to travel or live abroad with your kids and expose them to other cultures, but your ex is saying “NO WAY.”  What do you do? Here is my personal story of how I was able to get permission to travel and then to live abroad with my kids despite my ex-husband (the father of my two sons) FIGHTING ME TOOTH AND NAIL. It wasn’t easy, but it can be done in certain circumstances.

Getting Permission to travel or live abroad long term with kids: Me with my three kids at some random airport waiting for our next flight (2012).

“Yes, Officer, I DO have permission to travel with my children.”

Travelling When One Parent Is Not Present

If you have kids and want to travel internationally without the other parent, you’re technically required to have written permission from the other parent. Without written permission, you run the risk of getting denied entry into that other country.

But what happens when the other parent refuses to write you a letter giving you permission? (Even between the US and Canada)

Our Routine Flight To Montreal

In 2010, I flew to Montreal like I’ve done so many times before with two minor differences.

I only had 2 of my 3 children with me and my husband Blake was not with me. Blake and my eldest son were driving a moving truck across the country towards some tiny storage unit in Massachusetts.

I exited the plane with my son and daughter and promptly walked to the immigration and customs area to wait in line to get our passports stamped.  When it was our turn, I handed the customs agent our passports.

He immediately took them and furrowed his eyebrows as if he were straining to read our names.

He looked up at us, then back at our passports and back at us and did this a few more times.

No Big deal, I expected this scrutiny since I was ONE ADULT flying with kids and no father in sight.

Travelling is more complicated for us

To make matters worse, in addition to flying alone with two of my three children, it’s not immediately apparent that I am the children’s mother because we have three different last names.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I have a blended family, and we have 3 different last names.

FIRST NAME: My name is Annie Andre. Andre is my maiden name that I’ve kept on all my documents.

SECOND NAME: I’ve remarried and my daughter and my husband have the same last name.

THIRD NAME: My two sons are from a previous marriage over two decade ago and they have my ex-husbands last name. It doesn’t help that one of my son’s first name is my last name or that my other son has my last name as his middle name. ( “ANDRE”). I digress!

 Papers Please! said the grumpy looking customs officer.

I’m used to carrying documents showing that I have permission to travel with my sons.

95% of the time, I am never asked for proof that I have permission to take my boys out of the country, but today was one of those rare occasions. However, the passport agent only asked me to show my “permission ” to travel with my daughter and NOT my son.  Probably because she was the younger of the two, just 3 years old while my son at the time was 12 years old. 

I smiled and pulled out proof I had the right to leave the country with my daughter:

  1. Handwritten note from my husband Blake, which gave me permission to travel with Catherine. (It’s recommended you get this notarized but mine is not)
  2. My daughter’s birth certificate, which showed Blake and I were her parents. (not necessary but I brought it anyway).
  3. A photocopy of Blake’s Passport for good measure. 

Hypothetically speaking, had the passport agent asked me for proof that I had permission to travel with my son,  I would have handed him a COURT ORDER, which allows me to travel freely with my two boys.

You’ll notice, I did not have a written letter of consent from my ex-husband for my son,  I had a court order. I’ll explain why and how I got this court order in a moment.

“Welcome Back to Canada,” said the smiling customs agent.

Then the border police stamped our passport and off we went to my family’s house in Montreal.

How I Got Permission To Travel Abroad: Travel NOT LIVE

A few years ago, Blake and I decided to elope to Europe. We had originally said we were not going to get married, but after the birth of our daughter, it just made sense. We wanted to take all three of the kids with us so we could have a month-long family honey-moon.

I thought my EX (the biological father of my two sons) would agree to let me take the boys with us to Europe. After all, it was only a month, and it was for my wedding.

A month might seem like a long time to be away from the other parent but at the time my ex wasn’t seeing my boys regularly. So I thought easy right?

Nothing is ever easy with a vengeful ex. I’m not exaggerating. 

No amount of pleading, begging or bribing could persuade my ex into writing a letter to permit me to travel with the boys.

Rather than just rolling over and leaving the boys behind, I took my ex to court and big surprise, “I won.” (That’s just the way I roll).

I was worried for nothing.

My guess is the judge could see that my ex was trying to be difficult. There was no reason NOT to allow my boys to travel to Europe with us for our marriage.

The judge granted me a court order which permitted me to travel anywhere in the US, Canada and internationally without written permission from my ex as long as I tell my ex our itinerary. I could do this by email or letter.

So really, my ex-husband sabotaged his efforts and made it easier for me to travel with my boys. No more humiliating myself or begging and pleading with him every time I wanted to travel with my boys.

It was this COURT ORDER I used on the day I went to Montreal with two of my children, and it’s what I carry with me when I travel anywhere for short visits like vacations. Even into neighbouring states. I was really paranoid back then. My ex threatened to call the authorities on me because I took the boys skiing in the Colorado one year for 7 days. 

Permission to get minors a passport

The kicker was the judge also granted me permission to get passports for my boys without the need for my ex-husbands signature. Normally you need two parents’ signature to apply for a minor’s passport.

What if I want to live overseas or spend up to a year abroad travelling with my kids? 

Eloped: Intermission

In case you were wondering, we spent 3 1/2 weeks in Paris and then flew to Edinburgh Scotland to have a small civil ceremony on July 14th, which happens to be Bastille day (French independence day).

You can read about why we decided to elope to Scotland as a family rather than get married locally.

You can also get the inside scoop on when to we eloped to Scotland too. 

CHEEEEEEEEEEEZE. I’m so glad we took the boys with us. It just would not have been the same without them.

2008_07_15-190

This is us moments before the deed is done

Blake and I minutes after we were married in Scotland
Blake and I after the civil ceremony in Edinburgh. One of my sons is the photographer.

The kids hanging out at the Edinburgh castle after Blake and I got married

The kids are hanging out at Edinburgh Castle.

The boys horsing around in Scotland
The boys were re-enacting the battle of Langside, where Mary Queen of Scotts was defeated.

Permission to TRAVEL LONG TERM and LIVE ABROAD

I had permission to travel and visit other countries with the boys but not permission to LIVE abroad.  

As I write these words, I am living in France with my husband Blake and 3 children.

The COURT ORDER that I obtained for travelling with my boys ( which I mentioned above) was not valid for “LIVING” in another country.  I could only stay in Europe as a tourist with my family for 90 days, but I wanted to live there for a year legally and immerse the kids in French culture and send them to school in France.

For that, I needed a special visa called the “LONG STAY VISA,” which gave us the right to send our kids to school and stay legally in the country for one year, not 90 days.

The problem was that my court order stated I could only travel to France, not live in France. 

Travel and Live are two different concepts, and the French Embassy required that I either get written permission from my ex that clearly stated I could “LIVE” in France with my two sons or a court order showing that I can “LIVE” in France.

I called up my ex and explained to him what I wanted to do.

Parents send their kids abroad for a year of study all the time. I wanted my children to experience a year abroad, but I wanted to be there with them. I hoped that my ex would be okay with the kids spending a year abroad. Ironically he was on board with the idea until he found out that I was going with them. 

That alone should say something about his character!

Again, no amount of pleading, begging, no agreement I came up with was good enough for him. He just would not agree to it let letting me live in France for a year with my boys. 

So again, I petitioned the court to intervene and decide if I should have the right to live in France without my ex’s permission.

SIDEBARNow, before you jump on my back about taking the boys away from their birth father, let me first say that my situation may be very different from yours.

Obviously, since I am writing this while living in France, the judge granted me permission to LIVE in France with my boys. This doesn’t happen all of the time.

You Are Not Always Guaranteed Court Approval To Leave The Country With Your Children. 

Just because you take your ex to court does not guarantee you will win. In my case, my ex did not have a very good track record as a parent.

There were a lot of variables that worked in our favour. The bad economy and the fact that my husband and I could not find jobs in our field. The educational opportunity for the boys and the fact that we would and could be home for the kids after school.

But there was one big variable that may shock many of my friends who knew me and my ex because I have not told anyone but family and close friends for fear of retaliation from my EX.

My ex’s LACK of involvement and lack of assistance weighed heavily on the judge’s ruling to allow us to travel. That and his previous behaviour in not allowing me to take the kids to Europe for my marriage. 

Here are just a few things.. 

  • My Ex rarely Saw the boys: On two separate occasions, I had to pay him and his sister to babysit for me. ( I finally found a sitter so I could have a break once a month).
  • Endangerment: On one occasion, my ex was supposed to take one of my sons for 30 days in the summer, but I was called by his then-girlfriend after 15 days to come and pick my son up because my ex was too drunk to take care of him.
  • Lack of Support: My ex went eight years without paying me a dime of child support while receiving wages from working under the table before the courts finally took action and required proof that he was looking for a job. A real job. Now his pay-checks are automatically deducted, and I get child support, but he will be in almost sixty before he ever catches up on all of his back child support that is owed to me and the boys. The boys will be close to 30 at that time.

I could go on, but you get the picture, right? 

Just because you want permission to live abroad doesn’t mean you should have it.

Let me be clear on one thing, just because you want to leave the country with your children doesn’t mean you should. If the other parent is a good parent but an asshole to you, is not a reason. But if it’s really in the best interest of the children then yes, maybe you should go for it. 

For instance, had my ex been involved in my boys’ lives, then I would not have attempted to take them out of the country to live. But since he was barely there for them, there was really no loss in my eyes or in the courts since I was granted permission. 

The Court Process:

I’ll briefly explain the court process that I went through.

At the time, I was living in Montreal, and my ex was in California. I called up the lawyer I used before and asked her to file a new petition to allow me to take the kids abroad internationally.

I did not even have to fly to California. I was on the phone for the entire court proceeding. I could hear my ex presenting his case. My lawyer was present in California on my behalf. It lasted 20 minutes at most and then the judge made his ruling, and I was allowed to LIVE in France for not one but TWO years with the boys.

So How Do You Get YOUR Court Order?

Before you go and try to get a court order to travel with your kids, I strongly advise you to speak with your ex first and try to draw up an agreement. It’s not only the best way to do it, but it will also cost you less money leaving you with more money for your family.

But if your ex does not want to give you permission and you have your heart set on travelling or spending a year abroad like us then you’ll have to go to court.

DO IT YOURSELF OR HIRE A LAWYER?

I hired a family law lawyer. Each time I used my lawyer, it cost between 1,500 and 2,000 dollars.

The lawyer I used was in Santa Clara County of California since that is where I lived with my kids, and that is where our custody agreement is. I did nothing else but search on the Internet for a family law lawyer who handled child custody and modification agreements. Then I just called them and found the one I liked. ( I called 3).

You don’t need to hire a lawyer. You could file your own documents:

I talked with several parents who did NOT hire a lawyer. They filled out and filed their own documents, and you can do this too.

Go to your local family court-house and ask if they have free legal advice service or people on hand who can help you choose the correct documents and help you fill out the paperwork.

Once your documents are filled out, you file them and wait for your court date. In addition to filing my court docs,  I wrote a very wordy document about why I wanted to take the boys and why it benefited them. I wrote a bit about how much or little my ex was involved in my boy’s life. There is no format for this.  I just winged it and wrote from the heart.

That’s It. 

WHAT DOCUMENTS DO YOU NEED TO TRAVEL OR LIVE ABROAD WITH KIDS?

Just to summarize, here are the documents you should travel with.

I spoke with several parents who travel internationally or live abroad with kids (as single parents). Some people I spoke with don’t even get permission from their ex. They just chance it. Others didn’t even know that they were supposed to have written permission.  So technically, you could always play Russian Roulette it and attempt to go without written permission.

Personally, I wouldn’t chance it.

You never know when you will be asked to produce documentation. So here is what I recommend you travel with.

  • Always travel with a letter from the other parent. It should give you permission to travel with the kids, and it should be dated and signed. Many government sites say that the letter should be notarized, but so far, I have only used NON-notarized documents.
  • I  also bring a copy of my child’s birth certificate, which shows who the parents are. I have a friend (Talon, a single dad )who adopted his son, and on the birth certificate, it only shows him as the father the mother area is left blank, so he doesn’t need to show any other documentation although he did say that he travels with the adoption papers just in case but that no one has even asked him to show any proof of the mothers permission.
  • A copy of your spouse or the other parent’s ID. Preferably a passport if you can manage. I have a copy of my husband’s but not my ex.

Here is a link to the Canadian site with a link to a blank letter for you to fill out. Here is the link to the U.S. site stating the requirements.

Court order permitting child travel internationally

If you can’t get a letter of approval, then you will have to get a court order as I did. Be very careful of the wording you use in the court order.

Will you travel with the kids on vacation? Will you live abroad for a year? What countries? Will you travel nomadically during a period of time? For how long? What about the kid’s education? Health Insurance? How will they communicate with the other parent while abroad?

These are all things I had to consider and answer, and you may need to do the same for your court order.

Reading Books In Berlin: Prenzlauer_Berg

The Kids Do A Lot Of Reading and Learning On The Road

My friends may be shocked to read this.

Not many people know this story, including my friends. I think a lot of them will be very shocked to find out about this private matter.

I was going to keep it private, but I think, and I hope in the least that my transparency and my struggles will inspire and empower other single parents and blended families not to fear un-cooperative ex-spouses.  I always advocate amicable relationships with ex’s, but that’s just not always possible, is it?

You have to do what is best for the kids, and that is what I did.

FINAL THOUGHTS: You Don’t Have To Agree With Me

I realize there may be some of you who disagree with the idea of travelling and living abroad with kids. You are entitled to that opinion.

I lived abroad and travelled a lot as a child, and I am so grateful my parents gave me that opportunity. So much so that I want to give my kids the same gift that I received.

My kids are experiencing other cultures and seeing the way other people live first hand, not to mention the fact that they are fluent in French.

These are all things they would normally do and see in a classroom or some textbook but are getting to experience first hand. Plus, they are learning to be more creative, which makes for better problem solvers who can adapt better to change in this world.

It took a lot of sacrifice on my part and my husband’s part taking the kids abroad, but it’s totally worth it.

Would I love to know your thoughts? Leave your comments below.

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