Meredith Littles is pretty sure she'll eventually get a passport for her little girl. She will provide the U.S. Department of State the additional information it has requested, but she's pretty frustrated.
Not only was she forced to change her travel plans recently because she didn't have her daughter's father's signature, she believes she shouldn't have to get a signature from a parent who, in her mind, has demonstrated he wants nothing to do with said child.
"Even though I've never barred him from seeing her, he has never once asked to see her since she was 13 months old," said Littles, a local police officer. "Asking him to sign something so she can travel out of the country would be like handing a form to a complete stranger and asking him to give me permission to parent my child."
That may very well be, but it's a problem a lot of parents, for one reason or another, are apparently having.
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According to State Department officials, if a passport applicant is under 16, both parents/guardians must authorize the issuance of that passport. This helps to prevent international parental child abduction.
This was the second time Littles has applied for a passport for her daughter.
The first time, she said, was in 2008, just months after Kaelyn was born. That application was denied, too, because it didn't bear her daughter's father's signature.
At that time, Littles said she simply sent the department copies of the Georgia code for children born out of wedlock and the child support order identifying Littles as the custodial parent.
That was enough for the agency to reverse course and issue the passport.
In January, Littles applied a second time, hoping she and Kaelyn could travel to Cancun. With Kaelyn's older siblings now out of the house, Littles looked forward to some one-on-one time with her youngest plus this would be a chance for Kaelyn to experience a different culture, to hear the locals speak Spanish, the language she is studying in middle school.
Littles was hopeful even though an agent at the Midtown passport office had warned her that the chances of her getting a passport without Kaelyn's father's signature were zero.
Littles filled out Form DS-5525 that waives the need for a second signature and again sent copies of the Georgia code and the child support order, and because she recently since married, other documents of support.
All that was left to do was wait.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Every time I checked the status of the application, it was in the processing stage," Littles said.
On Feb. 23, just days before the deadline to change their travel plans without a penalty, a big Manila envelope arrived with the bad news. The application had been denied. She needed Kaelyn's father's signature or a court order that waived the requirement of that second signature.
"For lack of a better word, it was annoying, especially since I'd already sent the DS-5525 form," Littles recalled recently. "My problem is why do they have that form when they don't honor their own form. Since she was born out of wedlock, the noncustodial parent has no legal rights to her, and Georgia law is clear about that."
The last time she saw Kaelyn's father, Littles said, he showed up at their little girl's birthday party. Kaelyn was barely a toddler.
"We weren't in any type of conflict. We were co-parenting and then he just disappeared," she said.
Kaelyn will be 12 on Tuesday.
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Although he consistently pays child support, Littles said she has no idea where her daughter's father is to even request his signature. Because the payments were set up through the courts, his name is the only identifying information on the check, Littles said.
"I don't know where he works," she said. "I don't know any of his friends."
Now it was too late to make changes to their travel plans without paying a high penalty.
Meredith Littles with her daughter Kaelyn. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Littles said she wanted to share her story because, based on parent comments on the State Department's website, she is hardly alone. And she said most parents aren't savvy enough to navigate the court system and file the paperwork needed to get a passport absent the noncustodial parent's signature, especially if they don't know their whereabouts.
Littles understands the reasons behind the international child abduction laws, but believes there is a disconnect somewhere.
"I'm not violating any laws," she said. "He hasn't filed anything saying he doesn't want her to travel, and yet their position is find him."
The State Department gave her 60 days to respond.
Meanwhile, she said, she has contacted everyone from the mayor to U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., to President Donald Trump for assistance. Instead of going to Cancun as she had planned, Littles and her daughter will travel later this month to Puerto Rico instead.
"I'm going to get my daughter a passport, but why do we have to go through all of this when, according to Georgia law, I'm the sole custodial parent?" she asked, still incredulous. "I think it's sad. It's almost inhumane. I take her to the doctor. The only place I hit a roadblock is at the State Department. Why do they get to interfere with my rights as her custodial parent?"
Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples – AJC) or email her at email@example.com.
WHAT PARENTS SHOULD KNOW
If one parent holds sole legal authority, they must submit evidence of that authority (such as a court order granting sole custody) with the passport application. If one parent does not hold sole authority but also cannot locate the other parent, they must submit form DS-5525.
If a parent or legal guardian believes that his or her child is at risk of being abducted internationally by the other parent, he or she should immediately contact the Office of Children's Issues and inform appropriate law enforcement officials. You can contact the Office of Children's Issues by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-888-407-4747. For nonemergency questions or assistance, you can contact the office via email at PreventAbduction1@state.gov from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
Parents or legal guardians can enroll their minor U.S. citizen children (under age 18) into the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP). The program allows the Office of Children's Issues to contact the parent or legal guardian who enrolled the child and inform them should anyone apply for a U.S. passport for their child.