Multiple laws 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 which was drafted in 1997. 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 and get granted sole custody, and then 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.” The UCCJEA vests “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” for child custody litigation in the courts of the child’s “home state.” There are four criteria that will be looked at when determining which state has jurisdiction under UCCJEA. They appear in order from the most simple and ideal to the most complex:
The “home state” is where the child is and has been 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 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” is when no other state can or will take jurisdiction.
Once a court has made a custody determination under any of the above jurisdiction requirements, the court will be awarded exclusive jurisdiction, meaning that the court will have sole jurisdiction over any further custody issues. It is important to note that although the wording “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” is used in the UCCJEA, 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. The UCCJEA also allows a court to issue temporary “emergency orders” when the child is present in the state that does not have jurisdiction, as long as the child is in danger and is in need of immediate protection.
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.