Child Custody

Many divorced parents end up living in two different states. They may be thousands of miles or just a short drive away from each other. However, there may still be an issue of which state's courts can make decisions involving child custody.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Most states as well as Washington, D.C. use the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to determine which state makes such decisions. The two exceptions are Massachusetts and Vermont.

The UCCJEA was enacted to remedy situations in which judges disregarded valid custody orders involving interstate travel of minors and issued new ones based on the evidence with which they were presented. This often led to multiple custody orders issued by judges in two or even more states. That could leave parents potentially facing kidnapping charges in one state, but not another.

The UCCJEA traces its roots back to the "Full Faith and Credit Clause" of the U.S. Constitution. That clause requires judges to enforce valid decrees and judgments issued by courts throughout the U.S., regardless of whether these judgments were issued in the same state or not.

How Is a Child's "Home State" Determined?

In most cases, the state that makes a custody-related decision is the one in which a child lives. To be considered a child's home state, the child must have lived there with his or her parent for at least six months before the legal action was initiated (unless the child was moved by a parent to another state).

A state may also make custody decisions if it's determined that a child has connections in the state (such as relationships with grandparents, doctors, teachers and friends) or has been moved to the state to help ensure his or her safety and well-being.
If a child is living in the state, but none of the above situations is the case, a court in that state can't make custody-related decisions. An example would be if a parent moved a child to another state without permission.

People who are dealing with child custody or visitation issues with a co-parent in another state should consult a family law attorney in their own state first to determine how best to proceed. Family law attorneys can provide guidance on which state's courts the parent should turn to for resolution of the matter.