Question: I recently took my sons, ages 2 and almost 5, to see my husband/their dad, who is working in Montreal. The customs agent gave me serious grief because I didn't have a letter from my husband saying it was OK to take the kids out of the country. They pulled us off to the bad-girl customs room and scolded me. Ultimately, they let us go. How was I supposed to know I needed a letter? Aren't letters easy to fake? What do single moms do?
Answer: There are things in life we know we should do: We should floss. We should write thank-you notes. We should get the oil changed when the owner's manual says we should. But then there's this whole other horrifying category of things that fall under "stuff you should have known but maybe you were absent that day," like having your dog's anal glands expressed. (How did I get to middle age without knowing this?)
When you think about having such a letter, it makes sense, in the context of international parental abduction. In fiscal year 2007, the State Department assisted in the return, to the U.S. or other countries, of more than 600 abducted or wrongfully retained children. (The department notes that it's not deciding custody cases; it's just returning children to the jurisdiction where the case should be adjudicated.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I know Szymkowski; we worked together in a previous life, and I would be willing to bet a week's pay that she's not spiriting her kids to Canada.
But the Canadians don't know this.
And you wouldn't know about the letter unless you went to the State Department's website, clicked on country-specific info for Canada, clicked "Entry and exit requirements," clicked "For further information on entry requirements" that then led you to Canada's page, where you would click "Visiting Canada" and then "Travel with children." There you'll find this:
"Minors traveling with one of their parents require a letter of permission from the non-accompanying parent. This document should be specific to each trip and should include contact information for the parent(s) or guardian."
As for the issue of faking a letter, Cy Ferenchak of the State Department also suggests that the letter be notarized. I suppose you can fake that, but notaries I have known are as no-nonsense as that Canadian agent.
Shelly Rivoli, blogger and author of "Travels With Baby," adds that travel abroad is "going to be an issue for divorced parents each time either of them travels abroad with the children," so you may want to have the custody order with you as well as the letter.
It's never easy traveling with kids, and this is one more thing you need to remember, along with their passports, their birth certificates (especially if your last name is different from theirs), their vaccination records and every other document that the embassy of the country you're traveling to tells you you must have. Oh, yes. As if you didn't have enough to do, add that call to the embassy to your list of tasks. Put it on the list right next to "take dog to groomer."
Have a travel dilemma? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.