Parents living in different states have to make difficult decisions when determining custody, parenting time, and child support. Not only do they have to initiate a family court action, they must also determine what state has jurisdiction over their minor children.
To address this challenge, lawyers around the country worked together and drafted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This act has been adopted by 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands; only Puerto Rico and Massachusetts have yet to adopt the UCCJEA.
Under this Act a state that is asked to issue an order regarding custody of a child must first have jurisdiction over the child. The family court must initially determine the child’s “home state”. A home state is the state where the child lived within the state with a parent for the 6-months prior to the custody proceedings. If the child has been alive for less than six months, the home state is the state the child was born in and lived from birth. A state remains the child’s home state even if they are removed from that state, provided, however, that a parent remains in the original state.
If the child does not have a home state, the court must determine whether the child and a parent both have significant connections to the state of filing and whether there is substantial evidence available within that state to determine custody.
In rare cases where there is no home state, and no state has significant connections, any family court in a state having an appropriate connection to the child may exercise jurisdiction over the child.
A family court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over a child and transfer the case to another state for the convenience of the parties or as a result of misconduct. This scenario arises when one parent moves after the initial custody order and seeks to modify that initial court order. If two parents divorced in Michigan, for example, and the father then moved to Kentucky with the children, Michigan would still have jurisdiction over any subsequent custody orders, because one parent remained in Michigan.
The UCCJEA also allows a family court to take jurisdiction over a child in emergency situations. The purpose of the emergency provisions of the Act allow for custody orders to protect a child from imminent threats of harm. An emergency order does not give the court continuing jurisdiction, and must allow for a reasonable return to the state that issued the original custody order, or the child’s home state for a non-emergency decision.
Also, the Act allows judges in competing interstate cases to communicate with each other in order to make a jurisdictional determination. A record must be made of this communication, but it does not need to include the parties or their attorneys, although they must be notified of the conversation and be told the results.
Child support orders can also be enforced across state lines, albeit under a different statute. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) controls enforcement of out-of-state child support orders and has been adopted by all fifty states.
Jurisdiction is considered continuing and exclusive with the state that issued the original support order, provided that one of the parties or the child remains in the state. It is possible for multiple states to have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to issue a child support order. When that situation arises, the order issued by the child’s home state controls. A home state is the same for the purpose of the UIFSA and the UCCJEA.
If a support order is issued in one state and a party wishes to enforce or modify the order in another state, they must register the order with the new state. The registration process allows the Michigan court to request the order and other documents from the original court. The Michigan court can then modify and enforce the order just as it would its own orders.
Our law firm offers a free consultation for parents facing these challenging multi-jurisdictional issues. Contact our office to schedule a consultation in order to assess your legal options.