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Are there any requirements for an adult to take a five year old child on a day trip from Virginia to West Virginia with parental permission? I know that there are no checkpoints to pass when crossing the state line, but I am concerned about formal requirements and/or best practices if we are stopped by police or encounter a medical emergency and the child's parents are not with us. For example, is a written permission letter from one parent generally enough to avoid being overly delayed? Do I need letters from both parents? Do I need a notarized permission letter? Do I need a formal child care plan approved by a social worker?

If it is relevant, the child, I, and the child's parents are all US citizens and residents of the State of Virginia. The child's parents are married to and live with each other and have shared legal custody of the child, the child is not subject to any court involvement or custody disputes, and I am not taking the child anywhere without the knowledge and permission of both parents.

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    Chances are, you will never see a police officer in West Virginia and they definitely won't pay any attention to you unless you look like you have drugs in your car! – dalearn Apr 17 '17 at 21:34
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    @dalearn how does one "look like they have drugs in their car"? – celeriko Apr 18 '17 at 16:49
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    Can the parents have their mobile on them at all times? I'm guessing if anything happens, you can just call them, then they can say, "yes, I am the father of so-and-so. Yes, I authorize him to have a cookie before dinner." – Mikey Apr 18 '17 at 19:14
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    Sheik Paul has a great answer below and I wanted to add my own anecdote: Every summer my "niece" flies down to visit for a week or two. We're not blood relatives, but I've been very close with both her parents before she was born, and was a big part of her life before they moved away. When she comes down, her mother sends a note that combines a Consent to Travel with Medical Consent, and includes contact information for both parents in case of emergency. We've never needed it, but I make sure we keep it on us. – Taegost Apr 18 '17 at 20:11
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    @dalearn In some states, skin color is a factor. And no, I'm not joking. – barbecue Apr 18 '17 at 20:17
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Significant overkill however if you want to cover all the bases:

Consent to Travel

In the United States, children do not typically need to carry a written consent to travel with an adult. If the courts are involved in the child’s life, his ability to travel might be affected. Both parents should sign a notarized consent to travel. You can download a form online or create your own. Specify the child’s full name and address, the names and addresses of both parents, the names and addresses of the adults traveling with the child, the authorized destination countries and the dates of the trip.

Medical Consent

A medical consent form gives the accompanying adult the right to authorize medical treatment for your child while he is away. Some people combine a medical consent form with a general consent to travel form.

A copy of their medical insurance card will save you from having to pay or provide your own payment guarantee (except for a co-pay) in case of need of medical treatment.

Temporary Power of Attorney

If the trip will include activities such as parasailing or dog sledding that require parental consent, consider signing a temporary power of attorney. This is a legal document that gives the child’s adult travel companion the right to make virtually all parenting decisions for the specified period of time. A temporary power of attorney must be notarized.

CAVEAT

This list is written from the American perspective where society has moved toward less trust, reliance on each other and handshake agreements. Everything is becoming more legalistic and subject to litigation. In many countries this list would be viewed as absurd.

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    +1 while it's a bit scary that these are possibly reasonable steps to take even for grandparents taking a child for a trip, this is a great list. – DRF Apr 17 '17 at 19:31
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    This is a good list, but as you say, it's overkill for most normal situations. Parents take, say, their kid and their kid's friend somewhere together all the time without any paperwork. I'd add that there may be important information that you'll want to get outside of any formal paperwork, such as allergies, medical conditions, full set of parental contact information, etc... – Zach Lipton Apr 17 '17 at 21:27
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    @ZachLipton - Most of it is overkill. However, the medical consent form is something any responsible adult in this situation should make sure they have, particularly if the parents might not be easy to reach in an emergency. – T.E.D. Apr 17 '17 at 22:15
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    Would you really need medical consent for anything urgent or life-threatening? Here in Austria I’ve seen a 10 year old boy walk into the ER with a broken arm (he crashed his bicycle close by) and nobody asked any stupid questions. – Michael Apr 18 '17 at 9:13
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    @Michael Austria has a health service (which is publicly funded, and available to all EU citizens). The USA has a health industry. Big difference! – alephzero Apr 18 '17 at 11:12
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I have traveled around the US plenty with my own children, occasionally but not often with other people's children, and I don't recall anyone ever asking me to show any proof that my children really were my children. There is no law requiring you to have any sort of document to be allowed to take the child on a trip.

I don't see much value to having a notarized letter from the parents. If something led the police to think you kidnapped this child, I'd hope they wouldn't drop the matter because you showed them a notarized letter. A kidnapper could easily forge such a letter.

The only real value to having a notarized letter from the parents would be if they later changed their minds and said they never gave you permission, or if the whole thing was a trick so they could charge you with kidnapping. Then you would have evidence that they really did give permission. Frankly, if I thought there was the remotest possibility of a chance of something like that happening, I wouldn't even be speaking to this child without a lawyer present, never mind taking him on a long trip.

If the parents are separated or divorced, I'd make sure that both parents agree to let you take their child on this trip. Otherwise you could get in the middle of a custody dispute. I definitely would not want to find out that I was the dupe for one parent trying to hustle the child out of state to hide him from the courts in the middle of some custody battle.

It is a good idea to have a letter from the child's parents giving you authority to get the child medical care, and giving the name and phone number of their insurance company and their ID number with the insurance company. Just in case the child is injured. Again, I've never taken someone else's children to the emergency room, but when I've taken my own kids, no one has ever asked me for any proof that they were mine. I'm guessing that there probably isn't a big problem with people picking up random children and taking them to the doctor.

If you take someone else's child to a different COUNTRY, this is a whole different issue.

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Get the letter.

Don't bother notarizing it. The reason for the letter isn't to fulfill a legal requirement. Notarizing the letter would seem quite unusual, and therefore more suspicious. Just get the letter to show that there was an approved plan. Get it dated, so anyone who needs to know can see it was recent.

The reason for this isn't to sway the verdict of a judge. It is simply to have something on record to show that you're not making up the story on the spot. That might make your situation seem a bit more convincing, which might help sway someone's judgement to be in your favor, which might make your life a bit easier.

Having the parent's first and last name and phone number may also be helpful. If the parent's last name doesn't match the child's, make sure to also write down the child's first and last name. If a police officer (or hotel manager, or anybody you want to convince) does wonder about your story, it may be helpful if the police asks questions to the child (which can often reveal truth better than asking dishonest adults) and/or call the parents, and find that all of the details match up perfectly. Having such information match can sometimes help to settle questions quickly (without you being inconveniently re-located).

Basically, crossing a state boundary shouldn't seem like a very big deal (just like crossing a city boundary wouldn't). Even crossing multiple state boundaries wouldn't be a big deal if the states are smaller (like they are in the Northeast). What may be a bit more of an eyebrow raiser for some is if you're more than a day's drive away. Even still, I remember when my divorced mom in Washington State was visited, for week or two, by an ex-nephew's girlfriend's daughter from Colorado. Stuff like this happens (probably more in some societies than others). So, by itself, this shouldn't be a source of significant trouble.

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