Interstate Custody Arrangements

Child custody arrangements can be complex when parents live in different states. A distant move by one of the parents who shares joint physical custody can be challenging to follow. It likely needs creative tailoring of the order.

You jumped through all the right hoops following your divorce. You thought you had the whole custody thing figured out. But what happens to your child custody order if you move to a different state? Or if your ex moves to a new state? Will your custody order follow your kids' visit to Massachusetts if you live in the District of Columbia?

You can usually relax, as custody orders are nearly universal. It's not uncommon for divorced or unmarried parents to live in different states. However, living in different states can make co-parenting more challenging.

Basics of Interstate Custody

If the non-custodial parent's visitation rights are affected by the move, you need to file a motion in the state that issued the order before moving.

In some cases, moving across a state line does not affect the child's time with the non-custodial parent. The parents may still follow the visitation schedule if distance is not an issue. It sometimes helps to address how to handle an out-of-state move by either parent in the initial parenting plan or child custody agreement.

In cases where a parent wishes to move and the other parent does not agree to the move, a court will focus heavily on comparing what the child's life will look like if the court permits the move versus not allowing the child to move and potentially changing custody to the other parent.

Abuse and Domestic Violence in Interstate Custody

Imagine a situation where domestic violence is happening in a family. A person acting as a protector, such as a grandparent, has taken physical custody of the child to keep them safe. This person might move to another state for the child's safety and care. This is where the interstate "full faith and credit" custody law comes into play.

The following explains the full faith and credit custody law and when and where it applies. This law applies to interstate child custody.

Parents With Sole Legal Custody and Sole Physical Custody

It is typically easier for a parent with sole legal custody and sole physical custody to move. Parenting time for the non-custodial parent can often be adjusted to maintain the child's relationship with that parent.

Joint Custody in Different States

Joint custody situations have some nuances. It's important to know that a child custody order in one state is valid and enforceable in other states. So, custodial parents can't simply move across state lines without following certain procedures.

In such cases, the Full Faith and Credit Clause and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) come into play.

Many courts now incorporate new forms of contact, like using video calling for "virtual visitation." Read on to learn more about how the law can apply to interstate custody situations.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause and Interstate Custody Arrangements

The "Full Faith and Credit Clause" is a provision in the U.S. Constitution. This clause ensures other states recognize and enforce court orders and judgments issued in one state. This means a child custody case remains legally binding when a parent moves to a different state. Child support orders and custody agreements also remain binding.

Even with this clause, judges would routinely disregard interstate child custody arrangements in the past. Instead, courts would issue new orders and judgments based on the evidence that was before them at the time.

As you can imagine, conflicting custody awards for a single child could create great confusion. If one parent went to take a child based on a custody award from state X, she could be arrested for kidnapping in state Y. But, thanks to the UCCJEA, many of these problems have been resolved.

Full Faith And Credit Given To Child Custody Determination

Congress passed the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to create consistency in state custody laws. This federal law requires every state to enforce any custody or visitation determination made by a court of another state. The law stems from the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause, so it is often known by that name.

For example, authorities in California have to enforce and abide by custody orders made by a Florida court. This applies to minor children and includes permanent and temporary orders, initial orders, and modifications made by the “home state" court.

The federal statute defines the home state as the state where the child lived with either one or both parents for at least six consecutive months. If the child is under 6 months old, it would be the state where the child lived from birth with either parent. Temporary absences do not usually interfere. Mere physical presence in a state isn't enough.

Applicable Custody Determinations

To qualify under the Full Faith and Credit custody law, a child's home state court must make custody or visitation determinations. It has jurisdiction under the state's laws. A court could also have jurisdiction if:

  • It appears that no other state would have jurisdiction as a home state
  • It's in the best interests of the child that a court of that state assume jurisdiction because the child and their parents have a significant connection with the state
  • There is strong evidence supporting the child's present or future care, protection, training, and personal relationships in that state

If a valid custody determination hasn't been ordered yet, the provisions of the UCCJEA apply.

A court in a particular state can hear a custody case if that state has been the child's home state within six months of the date the legal action was brought and at least one parent continues to live in the state. Or, if a state with jurisdiction over a custody case declines jurisdiction or no other state may assert jurisdiction over the child, a court of a state where the action is filed can issue an applicable determination on the custody of a child.

Modification of Custody Determinations

Generally, a court cannot modify a custody order made by a court in another state. Even if no order has been filed with the court yet, as long as custody proceedings have begun, a court in another state cannot exercise jurisdiction or make its own custody determinations. If a state court has decided on a custody case, it usually doesn't matter where the parties involved might go.

However, a court can modify a determination if the original court of the other state no longer has exclusive jurisdiction or has declined to exercise its jurisdiction. The court can order that the case be heard in a more appropriate forum. An “inconvenient forum" is a legal concept where a court decides it's not the best place for a case to be heard. For example, the court can decide not to take the case if the case is too far away from where the people involved live — or if another state has more connections to the child.

Courts might also create temporary emergency jurisdiction in some situations. If the child is in immediate danger or needs urgent protection orders, a state can use its emergency jurisdiction to make an emergency order about the child's custody.

Enforcing Child Support Orders Across State Lines

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) is another important law. This law helps enforce child support orders across state lines. The main point here is that a person's “mere physical presence" in a state isn't enough for that state's court to change a child support order from another state. Also, the “temporary absence" of a child or parent from a state doesn't mean the state loses its power to decide about child custody or support.

Law enforcement helps enforce these laws and orders. They help protect children and other family members from harm, no matter where they are in the country. These laws may seem complicated. But, at their core, they help protect children and ensure their safety and well-being.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Congress enacted the UCCJEA to address child custody matters across states. It is a federal law that provides guidelines for deciding which state's court has jurisdiction over child custody cases. It helps prevent conflicting or competing custody orders from different states. It promotes the stability of custody arrangements in the best interests of the child.

Almost every state and the District of Columbia have enacted the UCCJEA. The UCCJEA sets out standards for courts to make custody determinations. It also sets standards for when a court must defer to an existing decision that originated in another state. Of the 50 states, only Massachusetts does not follow the UCCJEA.

UCCJEA and State Court Decisions

In general, under the UCCJEA, a state court can decide on a child custody arrangement in certain circumstances. These are listed in order of preference:

  • The deciding state is the child's home state. For a state to be a child's home state, the child must have resided with a parent in the state for at least six months before the legal action is brought, or where the child is absent, at least one of the child's parents continues to reside in the state.
  • The child and at least one parent have significant connections to the state. Other than mere physical presence within the state, these connections can include relationships with teachers, doctors, and grandparents, to name a few. There must also be substantial evidence inside the state that concerns the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships.
  • More appropriate forum. The home state or state with significant connections may decline jurisdiction where a more appropriate forum exists.
  • No other state. When no state can meet any one of the above three tests, a court may exercise vacuum jurisdiction over the custody orders.

Per the terms of the UCCJEA, if a state court cannot meet any of the above requirements, the court cannot issue a child custody judgment even if the child is present in the state. In addition, if a parent has wrongfully removed and kept a child in a state to make that state the child's home state, the parent will not get custody.

UCCJEA: Multiple States Meet Criteria

If more than one state can simultaneously meet any of the above tests, the UCCJEA dictates that only one state can issue a child custody judgment. In practical terms, if a state court in one state decides another court in a different state, the first court's decision will be binding.

The UCCJEA also requires that the courts communicate with each other to resolve emergencies. They have to work together to determine which state's court will handle custody going forward so there are no conflicting decisions from multiple courts.

The UCCJEA also addresses issues with visitation schedules and enforcement of custody orders across state lines. It encourages states to cooperate and enforce visitation orders issued in other states. The UCCJEA ensures that non-custodial parents can keep meaningful relationships with their children.

Jurisdiction for Temporary or Emergency Orders

To make emergency custody orders, a court may have jurisdiction when the child is in the state for safety reasons.

Generally, this means that the child is in the state after being removed from another state for fear of abuse, neglect, or abandonment if sent back to the other state. It is important to understand that orders based on emergency jurisdiction are temporary.

The orders may only last until a court with exclusive jurisdiction can act or confers jurisdiction to another state.

When To Get Legal Help with Your Interstate Custody Arrangement

Any child custody dispute is technically challenging and emotionally difficult. Custody disputes are even harder to resolve when the parents live in different states. Talking to a family law attorney is very helpful in these situations.

Attorneys can give valuable legal advice about your child custody matters. They can help you navigate child custody laws, state laws, and federal laws. Lawyers can also help represent you in family court during your custody action.

Custody Cases are Complicated: Get Professional Legal Help Today

Navigating child custody issues and understanding the federal Full Faith and Credit custody law can be confusing. If you have an existing child custody case or want to know your rights and responsibilities, legal professionals can help. They can help advocate for the custody of the child in the child custody proceedings.

A legal professional can guide you through family law and state law that applies to your case. They can help you navigate court orders and custody arrangements. A family law attorney can also help you advocate for your child support orders. They will provide valuable legal advice about child custody law. If you need advice concerning your custody dispute or representation in family court, you should consider speaking to a lawyer.

Contact an experienced local child custody attorney today.

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A lawyer can help protect your rights and your children's best interests. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child custody arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and provide for your children. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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