Mom and daughter

What You Need to Know About Interstate Child Custody

In most situations, children live with their parents in one state, but what happens when divorced parents live in separate states? Jurisdictions change, determining custody can seem overwhelming, and matters become much more complicated. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) shines a light on this topic and helps resolve the disputes over custody.

If you and your former spouse live in different states, it's essential to stay on top of interstate custody laws.

Understanding the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

If a parent and child reside in California and the California courts award both parents joint custody, the other parent may try to move to Nevada to get a new custody hearing in the hope that they may be awarded sole custody. The UCCJEA was enacted to prevent situations such as the example we’ve given.

The UCCJEA helps provide a framework for determining which state has jurisdiction over interstate child custody disputes. It was first drafted in 1997 and has been adopted by 49 states, the District of Columbia Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As of 2016, the only state that has not adopted the UCCJEA is Massachusetts.

Under the act, a state court can decide a child custody dispute depending on the following factors (listed in order of preference):

  1. The state making the decision is the child's home state. Jurisdiction typically lies in the child’s home state, which is the state the child has resided with the parent for the six months prior to the legal action being brought. A state may also assume jurisdiction if the home state

  2. The child has significant connections with people in the state. If a child has not resided in any one state for the 6-month period, courts will look at whether the child and parent have strong connections to one state. These relationships can include those with teachers, doctors, friends, and grandparents. Additionally, there is substantial evidence available concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.

  3. The child is in the state for safety reasons. A court may choose to exercise jurisdiction in emergency cases, where a child’s safety or well being is in danger.

  4. No state can meet one of the three above tests. Generally, this means that no state meets the above criteria, or a state meets one of the tests but has declined to assert jurisdiction.

Once a court determines a child custody matter, that state will maintain exclusive jurisdiction to hear all future custody issues until either 1) both parents move from the state or 2) a court determines that the state no longer has significant connections to the child.

Parental Abduction

The UCCJEA enforces consistency in interstate custody arrangements, but it also helps solve additional problems, such as one parent kidnapping a child and seeking custody. Take this example into consideration:

Parent X and Parent Y got married in California but moved to Arizona a few years into the marriage after Parent X got a better job. There, they began their family after giving birth to their child. The family lived in Arizona for 10 years until Parent X left Parent Y, filing for divorce, taking their child, and moving to New York. Once settled in the new state, Parent X goes to a courthouse in New York seeking custody of the child. In this example, Parent X would not be awarded custody, as the child’s home state is Arizona. However, if the child was removed from the state because Parent Y was abusive, the New York court may be able to assert jurisdiction.

Los Angeles Child Custody Attorneys

Issues surrounding custody, visitation, and support are always complex and unique to each family. We recommend seeking legal advice from a firm experienced in handling these types of cases.

The attorneys at TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP have provided representation in interstate and international custody matters, and we’re prepared to handle your case too. If your child has been removed to another state without your permission or you believe your case may have custody concerns, we encourage you to call our family law attorneys as soon as possible.


Schedule a consultation with TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP by calling (310) 455-8364.

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