Case Update: Obtaining a U.S. passport for a minor child without both parents' signatures
When parents share joint legal custody of their child, both parents must sign the minor child’s U.S. passport application. In the case of Clarke v. Lopez, the minor child’s father, Mr. Lopez, signed the child’s passport application but did it without the proper notarial stamp. When asked by the child’s mother, Ms. Clarke, to rectify this error, he refused. The U.S. Passport Office told Ms. Clarke that she should request an order from the appropriate court that gives her the sole authority to apply for the minor child’s passport, so Ms. Clarke filed a request for this relief in the Superior Court in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She did not, however, request any change in legal or physical custody. The court dismissed her request, without a hearing.
Ms. Clarke appealed, and, on June 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands, reversed and remanded. Not only did the court clarify that it should not have summarily dismissed Ms. Clarke’s request without an opportunity for her to be heard on the issue, but the court misunderstood her request, which was, in essence, a request to alter the parties’ legal custody so that she had sole decision-making over the minor child’s passport application. The court had jurisdiction over a child’s custody, and this was a request to modify legal custody, despite it being framed as a request to have sole authority to obtain a U.S. passport for the child.