- by Jenni Brown
In the past, it was much easier for an ex-spouse to flee a state with your children and skip out on child custody. The state you lived in may have outlined child custody requirements, but it was much easier to skip that agreement and get a new one in another state. States didn't communicate well with each other, and different state laws sometimes contradicted each other.
That all changed with 1997's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Today, every state except for Massachusetts and Vermont has adopted it. The law's goal was to clarify and enforce child support agreements when parents relocate once or many times.
In case you're wondering what happens with child custody when you or your ex-spouse leaves the state (especially when they are a custodial parent), these five key facts about UCCJEA will often apply to these kinds of situations:
A child's home state is the most critical piece of information concerning child custody. This piece of information determines what state will be able to enforce a child custody agreement. A child's home state is the state where they have lived consecutively for the past six months at the time that legal child custody proceedings begin. If the child has not lived in a "home state" for the six months before the proceedings, then things get a little more complicated.
If the child doesn't have a home state, then the law considers "significant connections" as the most important detail. Let's say the child only lived in a state for three months before child custody proceedings began. The law then gives child custody jurisdiction to the state where the child has the most "significant connections" such as family members, where they go to school, or where their primary care physician resides. In other words, the law wants to know where a child has the most secure, routine, and supportive environment.
These two parameters prevent most common child custody abuses. You can see how these two parameters make things difficult for parents who want to abuse the law. Let's say your ex-spouse as a custodial parent leaves Georgia and moves to Texas. If you have an Order from Georgia and you remain in the state, you can file a contempt to enforce the Order no matter where the home state is. However, to modify the Order if the home state changes to Texas, you would have to litigate the case in another state. In other words, if the custodial parent relocates it is vital to immediately contact an attorney to discuss a modification.
Child custody modifications cannot happen without a state confirming jurisdiction. In the old days, a different state might have created an entirely new child custody agreement without recognizing an existing agreement in another state. The UCCJEA law ensures that states confirm jurisdiction before proceeding with a modification. This makes sure that a parent cannot take a child to another state and get custody rights that violate an original, binding agreement. In some cases, two states may actually have equal claim to jurisdiction based on the data. If so, the first agreement created is the binding agreement.
Georgia can claim temporary child custody jurisdiction in case of emergency. The law allows for emergency cases in which a child is abused, mistreated, neglected, abandoned, or finds himself or herself in any other significant danger. When the court determines such an emergency exists, the state is allowed to claim temporary child custody jurisdiction. At this point, they will grant temporary custody to a parent or acting parent to make sure the child is safe. Child custody will then get revisited after this temporary period is over.
While child custody jurisdiction law is quite complex, these are a few of the most common and relevant facts that may impact you as a parent. UCCJEA makes it difficult for a parent to "kidnap" a child, avoid child custody agreements in one state, and create new ones that suit them in another state. It's best to have an attorney help you out with interstate child custody jurisdiction cases due to its legal complexity. If you are facing legal troubles or have any questions about child custody, call us so we can help you through your case.