Bring This Travel Document If You and Your Child Have Different Last Names

This week, a woman named Sylvia Acosta experienced what she called “a moment from a maid’s tale” as she passed through customs with her 15-year-old daughter at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Since she and her child have different surnames, Acosta claims that she was detained and interrogated by a customs agent, who reproachfully said that her “life would be easier” if she took her husband’s name. She told BuzzFeed News that the agent asked if she had any evidence that the girl next to her was her daughter, such as a birth certificate or a note from her father, but she didn’t. “I didn’t have any of these documents because we have traveled very often together around the world since she was a child and I never needed them,” Acosta said.

It’s 2018, and there are many reasons why a parent might not share a last name with their child. (Acosta didn’t change her name when she got married because that is “the name I built my career on,” she told BuzzFeed News. So no, patronizing a customs agent wo n’t make her life easier.) No official confirmation, though. that customs agents distinguish between parents and children with different surnames, a customs and border guard told BuzzFeed News that agents may ask additional questions in circumstances where it is impossible to immediately establish the relationship between the minor and the accompanying adult. The spokesman cited a 2008 law aimed at combating international human trafficking.

Oddly enough, now these problems at customs occur more often than in previous years.

“In the current environment, the checks have become more stringent,” says Morgan Richardson, partner in family law at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP. “Unfortunately, they stepped up on enforcement issues instead of looking for solutions.”

For parents with last names that do not match their children’s last names, additional questions can not only seem intrusive (and possibly racist and sexist), but can be a serious headache when traveling. Richardson recommends that, just in case, and to increase your chances of getting through customs and border controls without hindrance, you should bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate. If adoption certificates or custody documents relate to your family’s situation, please bring copies of them. Another good thing is to have a photo ID for your child. Ask your state DMV how to apply for one.

Also, you may not be aware that if you are traveling internationally with a minor and both parents are absent, Customs and Border Protection recommends that you bring a letter of authorization from the parent who is not traveling. CBP tells USA Today that the document might say something like, “I certify that my spouse is leaving the country with my son. She has my permission to do this, ”and list the five W’s about travel (who, what, where, when, and why) along with the absent parent’s contact information. Richardson says that for her clients who have joint custody of the child, she makes sure they always have this letter when they travel.

Richardson tells me that she understands that this can be a sensitive issue for travelers, but she should “try not to take offense at this situation personally.” Taking steps to have more documentation than you might need can ultimately save you a lot of hassle.


Leave a Reply