Interstate Custody Battles: Who has Jurisdiction? - Bineham & Gillen

custodyInterstate Custody Battles: Who has Jurisdiction?

October 9, 2023by James Gillen

Co-parenting as a divorced couple is challenging enough while living in the same state. When parents of a child are trying to determine custody while residing in separate states, it becomes an even bigger challenge.

Interstate custody arrangements and battles can get overwhelming and frustrating for all parties involved. Luckily, decisions regarding custody orders in Texas are always made with the child’s best interests in mind, and there are statutes in place to help make these difficult decisions.

How Does The UCCJEA Affect Interstate Custody?

Every state – including the District of Columbia and with the exception of Massachusetts – has enacted and follows the standards of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

This act deals with child custody and visitation matters when there are disputes involving parents living in different states — or when a child has been taken to another state without proper authorization. UCCJEA determines which state has jurisdiction over child custody cases, primarily focusing on where the child’s “home state” is located for the purpose of initial custody determinations.

UCCJEA provides rules for determining the child’s home state and which state’s court has the authority to make initial custody decisions. It aims to prevent conflicting custody orders and promotes cooperation among states in custody matters. The UCCJEA also addresses issues such as temporary emergency jurisdiction and the enforcement of out-of-state custody orders.

Under this act, where the child is currently living is the most important aspect in determining state jurisdiction or which state has the legal power to make decisions. A child’s home state refers to the state the child has resided in for the six months prior to filing the action and has priority over any other state.

What Is UIFSA?

UIFSA (Uniform Interstate Family Support Act) and UCCJEA are two different uniform laws that address distinct issues related to family law matters across state lines. While both acts are designed to promote consistency and efficiency in handling interstate cases, they focus on different aspects of family law.

The purpose of UIFSA is to focus specifically on the enforcement and establishment of child support orders across state lines. It applies to cases involving child support obligations and enforcement when one parent or the child resides in a different state than the one that issued the child support order.

UIFSA provides guidelines and procedures for enforcing existing child support orders across state lines. It allows the initiating state (the state requesting enforcement) to seek assistance from the responding state (the state where the obligated parent resides) in enforcing the child support order.

This act also addresses the modification of child support orders, specifying which state has the authority to modify an existing order when circumstances change and parties involved reside in different states.

In summary, UIFSA primarily deals with the enforcement and establishment of child support orders across state lines, while UCCJEA deals with jurisdictional matters related to child custody cases involving multiple states. Both acts are essential in providing a framework for resolving complex family law issues when parties or children have connections to different states.

Proving Residency

The parent filing for custody must prove residency for both themselves and their child in the state for the previous six months in order to gain jurisdiction priority.

If a parent moves states quickly after divorce and files for custody where they have only lived for a short amount of time, the state will analyze whether or not the parent moved because of a strong connection to the state. In this situation, connections to a state must be more than a place of residency.

After investigation, if no significant connection between the child and the state is found, child custody jurisdiction will belong to any state in which a significant connection is present.

How To File For Custody In A Different State

If both parents file for custody in different states, judges from both states will examine the evidence and work together to determine which state having priority and jurisdiction will be in the best interest of the child.

If you need to file for custody in a different state, you’ll need to follow certain steps to ensure the process is done correctly and efficiently. Below, we discuss some steps to consider:

  • Establish Jurisdiction
  • Consult An Attorney
  • File The Petition + Serve
  • Follow Court Orders

Keep in mind that family law procedures can vary from state to state, so it’s crucial to consult with an attorney in both the state you are filing from (the home state) and the state you are filing in (the new state) to understand the specific requirements.

Establish Jurisdiction

Familiarize yourself with the custody laws of the state where you want to file for custody. Each state may have different requirements, timelines and procedures. Determine whether the new state has jurisdiction to hear the custody case. Typically, the UCCJEA rules come into play here.

The child’s home state, as defined by the UCCJEA, is where you would generally need to file. Suppose the child has not lived in any state for six months or longer. In that case, you might have to consult with an attorney to identify the appropriate state to file in based on significant connections and substantial evidence concerning the child’s care and relationships.

Consult An Attorney

Seek legal counsel from an experienced family law attorney in the new state. They will guide you through the specific process and requirements for filing for custody there. Collect all relevant documents and information, including birth certificates, prior custody orders, evidence supporting your case and any relevant documentation about the child’s living situation.

File The Petition + Serve

Work with your attorney to draft a custody petition or complaint. This document outlines your request for custody and why you believe it is in the child’s best interests. If the other parent is not in the new state, you’ll need to ensure they are properly served with the custody papers. Different states have different rules for serving papers, so your attorney will help you with this.

Follow Court Orders

Be prepared to attend court hearings in the new state as required by the court.

If the court grants your custody request, make sure to adhere to the court orders and comply with any visitation or custody arrangements established.

Remember, filing for custody in a different state can be complex, especially when dealing with interstate issues. It is highly recommended to work with an attorney experienced in family law and familiar with the laws of both states involved to navigate the process successfully.

What If There Is An Emergency?

In the event of an emergency, a state that is not the child’s home state may retain priority jurisdiction to protect the child. Ultimately, the UCCJEA determines child custody jurisdiction based on the best interest of the child and his or her wellbeing.

In certain circumstances that benefit the child, the court will allow interstate moving. However, interstate custody arrangements also respect both parental parties. This means one parent cannot move states without following procedures that will allow the court to decide if moving states will affect the other parent’s custody rights.

Turn To Bineham & Gillen

The UCCJEA prevents two states from handling the same custody case separately at one time and prevents both parents from having custody in separate states for the sake of the child.

Once a court has jurisdiction, it will retain jurisdiction until neither the child nor his or her parents reside in the state or the child and parents no longer have significant connections to the state.

In order for another state to gain jurisdiction, evidence must be found establishing a significant connection for the child or the parents in that state. So, if a parent is filing from Texas to another state, Bineham & Gillen can help navigate the process and determine the child’s home state as well as where to file.

For more information regarding how to get a custody order in Texas, contact us at Bineham & Gillen. If you’re in need of a family lawyer, call us today to begin your custody case.