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Interstate Custody Arrangements

It's not uncommon for divorced or unmarried parents to live in different states. Living in different states can make co-parenting more challenging. This is especially true in joint custody situations. It's also 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.

Child custody arrangements can be complex when involving parents in different states. 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.

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.

In general, under the UCCJEA, a state court can decide on a child custody arrangement if (these are 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.

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.

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.

Contact a child custody attorney about custody issues today.

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