Child custody issues can be difficult for all parties involved in any scenario, but when multiple states are involved, child custody laws become especially complicated. They can involve state, federal and even international law.
There are multiple laws that have been created to deter interstate parental kidnapping. The most relevant and comprehensive law that prevents “seize-and-run” situations in the United States is the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The UCCJEA compiles a set of rules regarding child custody and visitation, however it does not regulate child support.
Prior to UCCJEA, a parent could take their child to another state, get granted sole custody, and the original state would have to abide by the ruling. This changed after UCCJEA passed. Before making a custody determination in any interstate case the court must have jurisdiction over the parties by giving notice to the other parent in the form of a “notice to appear” or a “summons.” There are four options and criteria that will be looked at when determining which state has jurisdiction under UCCJEA. They appear in order from most ideal to least ideal:
• The “home state” is where the child is living with a parent for 6 months or immediately prior to the filing of the proceeding, and extending for another 6 months as long as a parent remains in the home state
• If there is no home state, the state with a “significant connection” would be the next court in line for jurisdiction. This will generally be the state in which the child is attending school.
• “More appropriate jurisdiction” will be relevant when there is no home state, no significant connection or either of the previous mentioned have declined jurisdiction. This situation can arise in cases where one or both parents is a migrant worker.
• vacuum jurisdiction” – no other state can or will take jurisdiction.
It is important to note that a court can decline jurisdiction if the location, since determined, has become inconvenient for both parties, or if there has been misconduct on the part of either parent. Once a court has made a custody determination under any of the above jurisdiction requirements, that court will be awarded exclusive jurisdiction. This means that that court will have sole jurisdiction over any further custody issues. The UCCJEA, however, allows a court to issue temporary orders in emergency situations when the child is present in the state as long as the order is made to protect the child from abuse or threatened abuse from a family member.
Many child custody attorneys practice in a single state. If you are involved with an interstate child custody case it is imperative that you consult an attorney who is aware of all interstate laws and can help you understand your rights.