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How to Properly Use a Guardian’s Surname on a Minor's Passport Application

Guardians with small child

The U.S. government is very particular when it comes to issuing passports for minor U.S. citizens. Safeguards have been put in place to prevent international illegal child abductions by parents with shared custody, guardians, and others who have a claim to a child, but may not have the sole legal rights as parent or guardian. In an effort to ensure the safety of minor U.S. citizens, the Department of State has set up a Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) whereby parents and legal guardians will be notified before issuing a passport to a minor. Sometimes, when a minor assumes the surname of a guardian without a legal name change, it can complicate the overall picture for everyone.

Following the rules set by the Department of State regarding minor name changes will help to expedite the process of obtaining a passport for a minor and ensure that everyone involved is protected. When a minor has assumed a guardian’s surname, the guardian cannot use that surname on a passport application unless there has been a court order granting the minor’s name change to the guardian’s surname. For example, a child is orphaned and a relative who has been named legal guardian of the child and raised him or her for several years using the relative’s surname, may think it is no big deal to apply for the passport in the guardian’s surname. This is incorrect. The guardian’s surname can only be used for the minor’s passport application if the surname has been legally established by a court order.

A reasonable alternative is to use the guardian’s name as a “known as” name on the passport application. In this case, the child’s legal name would be listed on the passport application. Additionally, the child’s name with the guardian’s surname would be added as an additional “known as name.” The guardian would need to provide evidence that the minor used the surname for at least five years.

Documentary evidence of the minor’s use of the guardian’s surname would be sworn affidavits from the guardian(s) under penalty of perjury that the minor child used the guardian’s surname for at least the last five years. Additionally, the guardian would need to provide public records substantiating the claim such as school or medical records showing the minor used the guardian’s surname. If this criteria is met, then the guardian could apply for the minor’s passport in the minor’s legal name with the addition of a second name using the guardian’s surname as a “known as” name for the child. The “known as” second name on the passport is the only acceptable alternative to a court ordered legal name change.

The parent(s) or guardian(s) of minors must always establish their relationship to the child with documentary evidence in a passport application for the protection of the child. Typically, parents establish this relationship with a U.S. birth certificate, a foreign birth certificate, or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. Divorced parents additionally have to present a court order divorce decree establishing sole legal custody of the child, and when the custody is joint with the other parent, the absent parent also has to submit a signed Statement of Consent before the child can obtain a passport. In the case of adoptive parents, a decree of adoption establishes this relationship, and in the case of guardianship, a court order giving the guardian sole legal custody would establish the legal relationship to the child. Without evidence of the legal relationship of the guardian to the child, no passport can be issued regardless of any surname issues.

If you are the legal guardian to a minor U.S. citizen, go ahead and submit a passport application. Nothing helps a child become a thoughtful global citizen like international travel. Just be sure to follow the rules established by the Department of State, and obtain the minor passport properly. After all, the process is set up to protect the child you love.

How do you feel about the Department of State’s rules for the use of guardian surnames when obtaining minor passports? Does it unnecessarily complicate the process, or do you think it’s a necessary part of the process?

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