Initiating a divorce when kids are involved, or filing to modify or establish a custody order, can be a very difficult process even when everyone involved lives within 10 miles of each other. In instances where parents live in different states, the expense and burdens of interstate travel create another issue that must be resolved. Fortunately, legal issues involved in such instances, although difficult, can be navigated by an attorney with a sound understanding of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) applies in almost any situation involving competing jurisdictions, or in instances where parties reside in or are presently located in different states. The UCCJEA serves as a guide, or rule book of sorts to govern proceedings when multiple jurisdictions are involved.
Initiating a Proceeding With No Existing Court Orders
The UCCJEA defines “home state” as the state the child has resided in with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least 6 consecutive months immediately prior to filing suit.
There are exceptions, but generally speaking, the home state will have jurisdiction to establish an initial custody order. Identifying the home state is the first step in initiating a custody proceeding.
The 6 month period generally required to create home state jurisdiction make timing a crucial element to consider before initiating a custody suit. Just because a child is no longer in Texas does not necessarily mean Texas has lost jurisdiction to establish an initial custody order. If mom, dad, and baby reside in Texas from January to October, then Texas is the child’s home state. If mom and baby move to Oklahoma in November, but dad remains in Texas, Texas is still the child’s home state and dad will be able to petition a Texas court to establish a custody order. Likewise, if mom wants Oklahoma to render an order, her best bet is to wait 6 months before filing a suit to establish custody.
Modifying an Existing Order
Normally, the court that rendered a custody order will retain jurisdiction to modify that same order. However, if neither parent resides in the state that rendered the order, or if the child has resided in another state for at least 6 months with a parent or person acting as a parent, then we again look to the home state to determine jurisdiction.
Generally, if a state would have authority to establish a custody order as the child’s home state, then that same state will have authority to modify an order rendered in a different state. Prior to modifying an out-of-state order, the order must be registered in the new home state. If the order is registered then the new home state will have authority to modify the order as if it had originally been rendered in that state. However, if the child were moved from state to state in violation of a court order, then complications will arise and jurisdiction to modify or enforce an order will depend on a number of different factors unique to each case.