Managing Your Child’s Identity Documents

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Children's identification papers need to be kept safe and up-to-date

Do You Know Where Your Child’s IDs Are?

Managing the safety of your child includes obtaining and protecting the official documents that govern their life. Organizing those across two households requires time and planning so that both parents have access to them as needed.

To manage your child’s identity, include language in your divorce terms that:

  • The parents agree that each child will maintain their surname as decided at birth.
  • Gives each parent equal access to each child’s official documents, including but not limited to report cards, birth certificate, passport, and the like.
  • States when and how the non-custodial parent is to be notified when a child receives another ID card, such as a driver’s license.
  • Ensures each parent will cooperate to create a notarized travel permission document upon request and in a timely manner. (Described in the “Traveling with a Child” section below.)
  • Each parent agrees to advise the other of how to reach the child if traveling for more than a certain number of hours (usually 2-3 hours) or the child is staying away overnight from his/her scheduled residence.

Track Your Child’s Identity Documents

Consider sharing a document (via, Google Drive, or other cloud service) that lists the ID documents each child has, which parent is managing updates to them (if needed), and where they are stored in each parent’s home.

  • The parent storing the document originals can consider scanning a copy of each to provide to the other parent. The scanned document is usually not an acceptable substitute for the original, but it can be useful in obtaining a replacement if the original is lost or damaged.
  • As your child grows older, teach them about the documents and the importance of not sharing personal information with anyone without checking with you first. Show them safe ways to carry documents such as student ID, driver’s license, and as applicable, health insurance cards, credit and debit cards, etc.

In this post I cover the basic IDs that confirm your child’s identity and connect them to various services and a special ID to help in times of emergencies:

But first, let’s address child identity theft.

Child Identity Theft

The media frequently broadcast stories in which an adult has had their identity stolen and the thieves racked up thousands of dollars of credit card debt. A stolen identity can also be used to file false tax returns, obtain fraudulent medical services, or file for unemployment.

A child’s identity may also be stolen. This crime can go undetected until a child becomes an adult and seeks credit, only to find a history of falsely obtained credit. The damage caused by child identity theft can vary from a single fraudulent bill in collections to a foreclosed mortgage. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides this comprehensive guide about protecting your child’s identity, how to find out if they’ve become a victim, and what to do to fix that. You may also want to contact your attorney and tax advisor for help.

Official IDs for Children

The main official IDs for children are issued by federal, state, or local government agencies, starting at birth. This post focuses on children born in New York State. If your child was born elsewhere, please refer to the appropriate agencies in that state.

Birth Certificate

In the United States, a birth certificate serves as proof of an individual’s age, citizenship status, and identity. This document is required to obtain your child’s social security number or a passport, enroll them in schools, get them a driver’s license, help them apply for a job, or get them covered under your medical and other benefits.

Obtain an original, certified copy of the birth certificate of each child for each parent. This can be done online by accessing the government website of the state or county in which the child was born. Note that many states “protect” birth records for 75 years or more, allowing only an immediate family member to obtain a copy. In New York State, birth records are held by counties. For example, my home county’s website is It has a link to “Birth & Death Certificates.”

  • If your child is born in a hospital, the staff gathers the information needed and sends the order for the birth certificate to the right agency. It is always better to think about the baby’s name in advance as it is much easier to apply for a birth certificate at the time of birth.
  • If you decided the name of your baby after leaving the hospital, then contact the county health department in which the hospital is located as soon as possible after the birth to find out how to get a certificate. Under this circumstance, you’ll need to obtain your child’s social security number yourself (see below).
  • Birth certificates are issued when adopting a US-born child or a foreign-born child. The new certificate replaces the Original Birth Certificate (OBC) as the child’s official record.
  • A 2019 NYS law makes it legal for an adopted child 18 or older to obtain their OBC if they were born in New York State. Note that some non-official-NYS websites about adoption are not up-to-date about this change.
  • If a surrogate carried your child to term and/or a sperm or egg donor was involved, additional paperwork may be needed to get the child’s birth certificate.
  • Every state allows for corrections and name changes, but not every state will allow for a change of gender on a birth certificate. The New York State Unified Court System has a comprehensive web site about “Name Change for Adults & Children.” It also covers gender changes.

Social Security Card

A social security number (SSN) is required for opening a bank account, getting medical coverage, and obtaining government services for your child. When hospital staff gathers info for the birth certificate, the process usually includes the option to request an SSN at the same time. If the SSN request doesn’t happen at that time, the process to obtain an SSN for your child takes considerably longer and requires more documentation.

  • Do not allow your child to carry their card with them. In many cases, giving the number verbally or on a form is enough. Instead, keep the physical card with one parent at home stored with other important papers. The other parent should record the child’s SSN in a safe place for reference.
  • Do not laminate the card. Doing so will damage it.
  • A replacement can be ordered. If it’s lost or damaged, here’s how to order a replacement social security card for a child.

US Passport

US passports are issued by the US State Department. They work to prevent a parent from taking a child abroad without the other parent’s consent. Their rules prevent children’s passports from being issued without the consent of both parents. The department also has programs to protect children involved in custody disputes.

Much less paperwork is required to secure a child’s passport while you are married than after your divorce. Consider cooperating with your spouse to obtain passports for your children well before your divorce is final.

Applying for a Passport

A passport agency is a processing center that serves as an issuing agent of new passports, renewals, name changes, corrections, etc. A passport office, also known as a “passport application acceptance facility,” has agents that administer an oath and receive application form DS-11 for new passports. Passports are not issued at these offices.

Application for a passport must be done in an official “passport acceptance facility.” Search for nearby locations on this US Dept of State Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page. Please contact your acceptance facility location directly to determine if it is open and accepting U.S. passport applications. Be sure to gather the necessary documents before you go to a facility. There is also a process to get an expedited passport.

  • Obtain a passport for a child under 16. All children under age 16 must apply for a passport in person with two parents or guardians. Passports for children under age 16 are valid for 5 years.
  • Obtain a passport for a person 16-17. Most applicants ages 16-17 must apply in person.
  • Obtain first passport at age 18 or older. The applicant must apply in person.

Traveling with a Child

Regardless of where you travel with your child, it’s best to:

  • Bring a form of official ID for the child. A US passport works well for this. A less expensive ID alternative to a passport is available in NYS. It’s a Department of Motor Vehicles non-driver ID. The child’s birth certificate and social security number are required to get one. It can be used instead of a passport to return to the US by land or sea from Canada, Mexico and some countries in the Caribbean. A non-driver ID is not acceptable for air travel between these countries.
  • Have a written and notarized note of consent from the other parent and with both parents’ signatures to show to authorities on demand, even if there are no laws requiring such a document. Many parents report being asked for a note from the child’s other parent and being questioned when entering Canada to confirm that the other parent is aware of the child’s travel plans.
    The note may need to be created with a current date for each trip. Suggested wording of the consent is, “I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside of the US with [the name of the adult] with my permission.”
  • Consider giving the other parent a copy of your itinerary of flights and other travel details, expecially for international trips.
  • Keep documentation safe while traveling. This includes ideas such as carrying high-quality copies.

Travel Within the US
Traveling anywhere in the United States is the same as traveling within New York State. Every state and most other countries honor the parenting plan in the divorce decree. The issue is not where you go, but rather that the child is returned to the other parent according to the parenting or holiday or vacation schedule.

  • TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling within the United States. Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18. Adult passengers 18 and older must show valid identification at the airport TSA checkpoint in order to travel.
  • Amtrak train and bus services have their own requirements.

Travel to a Foreign Country
If you are traveling alone with minor children, foreign border officials may require custody documents or notarized written consent from the other parent. Check with the embassy of your foreign destination before traveling to see what you may need. Note that required documentation varies whether traveling by land, sea, or air.

Entry Back into the US
Entry by a US citizen back into the United States from another country is supervised by US Customs and Border Patrol. Note that the rules and guidelines vary for entry by land (e.g., Canada and Mexico), sea, and air.

Learner’s Permit and Driver’s License

One of the joys of a teenager’s life is (finally!) learning to drive. The first step at age 16 or older is applying for a NYS Learner’s Permit. There are now three types: Standard, Real ID and Enhanced. Each comes with a special set of permissions and may require different forms of proof. The process to obtain a learner’s permit explains how to obtain a driver’s license after the applicant passes relevant tests.

The learner’s permit looks similar to a driver’s license. Its owner must carry the card any time they drive a vehicle.

Recommended: An Emergency ID Card

A simple ID card can give authorities an accurate physical description of your child, a current photo, and other information to aid in search, rescue, and identification. In addition to having your child carry his or her own ID card, each parent, guardian and caretaker should also carry a copy to give to law enforcement in the event the unthinkable happens.

Five Reasons to Get an Emergency ID Card

No one likes to think about situations in which a child is threatened, missing, or otherwise unsafe. It’s estimated that 34 percent of American parents wouldn’t be able to accurately describe their child to law enforcement, including details of exact height and weight as well as their child’s eye color. Amid the immediate fright of realizing something is wrong, a parent could forget to provide authorities with key information such as allergies (peanut), medications (insulin), and medical or other conditions (autism, developmental disabilities).

  • Communication: Some children benefit from ID cards as a form of communication, specifically kids with disabilities that make it difficult for them to communicate. Autism is one example touching the lives of many American families. Some children on the spectrum do not speak, while others may use alternative methods such as pictures or sign language. Some may have language abilities but find themselves unable to interact with strangers. For these children, an ID card can be used as a way to share important information beyond basic identification, including instructions about their disability, how to communicate with them, and any critical sensory or behavioral information.
  • Medical Emergencies: An ID card can be a lifesaver in an emergency by providing important medical information, including allergies, medications and other medical concerns. The card can include emergency contacts and even a medical release form for first responders, law enforcement, emergency room staff, etc.
  • Traveling Minors: Whether your kids are traveling on a trip with you, with a church or school group, or by themselves, they may or may not be required to show photo identification. Even if it’s not a requirement (some airlines require ID, some don’t), it’s a good idea for kids to have both official ID and this emergency contact with them.
  • Lost in a Crowd: Kids can panic if they lose sight of a parent—and vice versa— in a large crowd. It’s important to have a family plan in case you are separated, and ID cards can play a big role in that plan. The ID card your child carries can provide the critical information needed for a store clerk or mall security guard to reunite him or her with you. The copy carried by a parent or caregiver can provide information to security or other law enforcement who search for the child.
  • Abduction: The first 48 hours following the disappearance of a child are the most critical in terms of finding and returning that child safely home. Those hours can also be the most troublesome and chaotic. Accurate information helps the searchers focus their efforts and get the child the right medical attention as needed. Some child ID services also offer fingerprints, tooth prints, and DNA swabbing, all of which can help identify and track a child.

For example, Operation Safe Child (click on the link and then click on “Operation Safe Child”) is a program run by the NY Sheriffs Association to create such a card in under 2 minutes with your child.

“The goal of this program is to provide parents and children with important child safety information and to capture the fingerprints, basic biographical information, and photographs of children – information critical to expediting the return of a missing child.

“In addition to being able to quickly provide important details to law enforcement agencies investigating a child’s disappearance, the NYSSA SAFE CHILD Card will serve as an important tool when used in conjunction with the NYS AMBER Alert and Missing Child Alert programs. The card will allow essential missing child information to be disseminated, statewide if necessary; within minutes and dramatically increase the possibility of bringing a missing child home.”

Modern technology makes creating the ID quick and easy:

“Using equipment that contains the latest digital fingerprinting technology and high-resolution photography capabilities, 58 County Sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies are able to produce a SAFE CHILD Card for parents or guardians.

“The card contains a child’s name, biographical information (including date of birth, gender, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and other identifying data), and a fingerprint image of both index fingers. The card can be made in less than two minutes and can be easily carried in a wallet or purse.”

You can find numerous providers online and on using the search term “child id card” or similar phrases. Also, make sure to update the card once a year. Children’s health and physical attributes can change quickly as they grow.


With all the other details to manage during and after divorce, tracking your children’s identification can fall through the cracks. Keep that task on your to-do list, make note of document expiration dates, and be prepared with other documentation that may be required such as during travel.

Your child’s safety and well-being are at stake.

Photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / docian

This blog and its materials have been prepared by BJ Mediation Services for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as legal or financial advice. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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