Family Law and the UCCJEA – What Happens When a Parent Takes a Child to Another State?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a Uniform Act drafted in 1997, and adopted by the majority of states in the U.S., for the purpose of providing a solution to jurisdictional issues when parents and children live in different states. The UCCJEA replaced the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), the previous Uniform Act, because of that Act’s discrepancies with the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA).

Before I delve too deeply into the UCCJEA, this article is purely for information purposes only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice for your specific situation, or need questions answered pertaining to your legal issues, you should contact a family law attorney in your state.

So what are the basics of the UCCJEA?

(1) Home State jurisdiction:

The UCCJEA vests exclusive and continuing jurisdiction over child custody determinations in the courts of the child’s “home state.” This is the crux of the UCCJEA. But what is the home state? It is defined as the state where the child has resided for at least six consecutive months preceding the filing of the child custody proceeding, or since the child’s birth if the child is less than six months old.

If the child has not lived in a state for six consecutive months immediately preceding the custody action, then the act contemplates jurisdiction in the state which has significant connections to the child and at least one parent, and where substantial evidence concerning the child is located. If more than one state falls in this category, then the courts of each state must communicate with each other to determine which is the better one for jurisdictional purposes.

(2) Exclusive and continuing jurisdiction:

Once a court has exercised jurisdiction and made a child custody determination, then that court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction until one of two things occurs. First, the court could determine that neither the child, the child’s parents, nor any person acting as a parent has a significant connection with the state and that there no longer is substantial evidence available concerning the child, at which point the court would decline jurisdiction. Second, the original court or the court of another state could determine that neither the child, the child’s parents, or any person acting as a parent reside in the original state, at which point either court could determine that continuing jurisdiction has ended. Continuing jurisdiction is an important question when one or both parents initiate a custody modification proceeding.

(3) Temporary emergency jurisdiction:

But what happens when one party absconds with the children to another state? To some extent, the UCCJEA deals with this issue. A state which does not otherwise have jurisdiction may exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction if it determines that the child is in danger and needs immediate protection.

After issuing the temporary order, the court will then look to see whether there is already a custody order in place. If there is already an order, the temporary order will allow the parent or parents a reasonable amount of time to return to the court with continuing jurisdiction to argue the custody case. If there isn’t an order in place, then the temporary order will remain in effect until a court exercises home state jurisdiction and makes a custody determination.

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