Interstate child custody disputes are slightly more complicated than the typical intrastate dispute. Interstate custodial disputes involve issues with constitutional law, custodial law and recognition of lawsuits by other state courts. This post will review the various legal issues surrounding interstate child custody disputes.
Every state and the District of Columbia enacted a version of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). The UCCJEA establishes the standards by which courts can obtain jurisdiction over child custody disputes. The law was adopted to prevent couples from "shopping" around to different jurisdictions to obtain the result they want.
In general, under the UCCJEA, a state court can assert jurisdiction if one of the following four apply. The court must start with the first factor and then work their way down, if none apply, then the court may not assert jurisdiction. Unfortunately, this still requires you to submit arguments in your favor to the court, so you may still pay the expense to litigate.
If the court sits in the state which is the child's "home," then the court may assert jurisdiction. A child's home is established if the child resided in the state with a parent for at least six months prior to the legal action.
Next, the court may assert jurisdiction if the child has significant connections to the state. These connections include a variety of elements including friends, family, doctors, sports teams, and school. This test is balanced between the child's connections to the state and lack of connection. The more connections, the more likely the state will assert jurisdiction.
Next, the court will take jurisdiction if there is a safety concern, e.g. abuse or neglect issues. Finally, if no state meets the above tests, then the court may hear the case.
Unfortunately, interstate disputes can become complicated very quickly. It is critical that you address these disputes as soon as possible. An attorney can help you prepare for the dispute to ensure that you litigate the matter in a court that is convenient for you. While states are required to respect the decisions of other states, the last thing you want is to hope that a different judge respects your custodial arrangement. You don't need to litigate this on your own, a lawyer can help you.