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March 30, 2008|Catharine Hamm

Question: My daughter, who is 7, and I are traveling to Paris for spring break. My husband is not joining us, and my daughter and I have different last names. What are the requirements for one parent traveling with a child out of the country?

Dori McMurtrey


Answer: The main requirement is that you pack your patience along with documents that other mothers probably don't need.

McMurtrey's question, on the surface, might seem like an overreaction. But travel these days is all about the unexpected. What is actually a lovely mother-daughter trip in your eyes may appear to be a kidnapping to some authorities.

Here's what Cy Ferenchak, a State Department spokesman, advises: "Carry a photocopy of the child's birth certificate, which I assume matches the name on the parent's passport. Also, prepare a notarized power of attorney authorizing one parent to travel out of the country with the daughter."

You also might carry a copy of your marriage license, just in case.

Marissa Vallbona of La Jolla said she encountered problems not at the border but with the airlines, which assumed that because she and her children and her husband all had different last names they were not a family, so they were seated separately. She always tells the airline that she and her sons are a family traveling together.

And if the authorities or airlines don't trip you up, "helpful" people just may.

Just ask Kelly Utt-Grubb, whose last name is neither Utt nor Grubb but Utt-Grubb, as is her husband's. How she reconciled the "take his last name or keep my own or find something different" question gave birth to a firm called Name Counsel consulting services, which helps people (brides-to-be, the newly divorced) grapple with names.

She and her husband chose a hyphenated last name, hers and his, and that is also the name her children use. When I spoke with her recently, she was just undoing what a service person had done "who assumed my name was Grubb [and] changed that on our account . . . like she was doing me a favor," Utt-Grubb said.

Utt-Grubb noted that the best preparation may be mental. "Realize up front you're going to have to deal with" issues surrounding the names, whether they're legal or just regular life. Names, she said, can be a loaded topic: "People for some reason still feel very free to comment on that."

With a game plan and documentation, though, you may get the last word.


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