What is the UCCJEA and how does it Affect Interstate Custody Orders?
A difficult situation for divorcing and/or divorced parents with children is when one of the parents decides to relocate in a different state away from the close proximity of the other parent. Common questions that parents might ask in this situation are: “How does this affect the current custody order in place?” or “How can I enforce my custody rights in a different state?” Both of these questions can easily be answered by applying the guidelines of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act which is commonly referred to as the UCCJEA.
The UCCJEA has been in effect in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for at least 30 years. It is a uniform body of law which was enacted to ease custody issues when such custody issues cross state lines. This uniform body of law varies only slightly from state to state and has largely maintained its uniformity in its application to some very complex, interstate, child custody issues. The UCCJEA was primarily designed to assist courts in determining which state court has original jurisdiction in a custody matter and how that custody order can be modified and/or enforced by a court, even when the parents reside in different states. One of the main components in the proper application of the UCCJEA, going to a court’s initial jurisdiction, is where the proceeding for child custody is commenced in relation to where the child or the children reside.
Typically, a state court will have initial jurisdiction to be able to enter an order on child custody if the state was the home state of the child from the date of the commencement of the child custody proceeding, or was the home state of the child for at least six months before the commencement of the child custody proceeding and the child is absent from the state, but a parent or a person acting as a parent continues to reside in that state. Also of importance is that there are no other custody proceedings, regarding the child or children, that have commenced in any other state and there is no other court that has already entered an order on child custody. Also of particular important is evidence of the child’s or the children’s connection to the state, other than a mere physical presence. Indeed, under the UCCJEA substantial evidence must be available in the state regarding the child’s or children’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. Therefore, if Grandma and/or Grandpa lives in the same state of the child or children, that would be construed, by the court, to be valid evidence going to the quality and substance of the child or the children’s personal relationships in that particular state.
A court that has already entered an initial child custody order can decline to exercise jurisdiction over the child custody issues based on the fact that another court is a more appropriate forum. This scenario typically occurs only when a parent moves, with the child or children, away from the close proximity of the other parent, after an initial order on child custody has already been entered (when both parents were residing in that same state). In such case, a court in the new state, where the child or children have been residing with either Mom or Dad, for several years, would most likely be determined to be the more appropriate forum, by both courts, to either change, modify, and/or to enforce the custody order. The experienced attorneys at JLJ Law Group, PLLC are knowledgeable in the complex provisions of the UCCJEA and will be able to assist you in addressing your current child custody concerns. Please contact the firm, at your earliest convenience, to schedule your consultation appointment.