Interstate Custody Issues and UCCJEA Basics by Cassandra Hearn

It is becoming increasingly common for adults to move from state to state.  Our society has become more mobile, and people are no longer as hesitant to start again in another place.  These fresh beginnings can present interesting and sometimes complex issues for child custody cases.  When one parent has moved out of state, there are some unique interstate custody issues that parents should be aware of.  The law that governs many of these potential issues is called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and is called the UCCJEA for short. 


The UCCJEA is a set of statutes that has been adopted by 49 states, with Massachusetts being the only state to fail to adopt the statutes.  The purpose of the law is to allow courts to make temporary orders to protect children, and to prevent what attorneys refer to as “forum shopping.”  This refers to the practice wherein a parent seeks to find a judge or jurisdiction friendlier to his or her custody request, and so moves to that new jurisdiction in order to start the custody case there.  The UCCJEA prevents this by setting out requirements for where a custody case must begin.  These rules are slightly different depending on whether the case involves an initial custody determination or a modification of a prior order.


California Family Code § 3421 discusses jurisdiction for an initial determination.  Here the first inquiry is where is the home state of the child?  The home state is where the child resided for the six months immediately preceding the filing of the custody action.  In this way, you can see that a parent cannot simply decide that California is not a friendly jurisdiction, move tomorrow, and file the next day in the new state.  The new state would probably refuse to accept jurisdiction, as the new state would not yet be the child’s home state.  There are some situations wherein the home state may decline to exercise jurisdiction, including if the child and at least one parent have a significant connection with the new state and there is “substantial evidence” in the new state concerning the child’s best interest.   


California Family Code § 3422 discusses the proper jurisdiction for a custody case seeking to modify an already existing custody order.  Under that provision, the court that made the first order has “exclusive continuing jurisdiction” and the case must be brought in that court.  There are, of course, exceptions, including where the child has moved from the original state and substantial evidence about the child no longer exists there, or neither the child nor the child’s parents, or a person acting as the child’s parent, reside in that state any longer.


This is just a very small summary of a large and complex set of laws.  If you have an interstate custody case, you need an experienced attorney. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your child custody case and how the UCCJEA applies to you.