“Home State” And The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act

uniform child custodyNorthern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area has a unique and highly transient population. With the number of government jobs and military institutions in D.C., families are frequently moving in, out of and around the city. In this dynamic, it is important to know which court has jurisdiction to enter an initial child custody and visitation order.

Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA),Tthe proper court with jurisdiction to enter an initial child custody or visitation order under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a court in the child’s home state. The home state is the state in which the child lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to commencement of the custody lawsuit. If the child is less than six months old at the time the custody petition is filed, the home state will be the state in which the child was born and has lived since birth. If, at the time the custody suit is brought, the child has been out of a state for more than six months, that state will no longer have jurisdiction to enter an initial custody order.

For instance, let’s say Joe and Jane were married and had a one-year-old son—John—who was born and raised in Virginia. Joe and Jane decide to obtain a divorce, and Joe moves to Texas with John. Joe would not be allowed to file for custody of John in Texas until after John have has lived in Texas for at least six months. Rather, the only court with jurisdiction to hear a custody petition will be Virginia.

In other words, Virginia will remain John’s home state for at least six months after Joe’s move to Texas under the UCCJEA.

In most cases, only a child’s home state has jurisdiction to enter or modify  any a child custody or visitation orders, or to modify them, with few exceptions. Here are the few instances in which the UCCJEA permits another state to exercise jurisdiction over child custody matters:

1. Inconvenient forum. In cases where the home state is is  an “inconvenient forum” and some otheranother state is deemed better equipped to decide custody, the UCCJEA allows that other  state to exercise jurisdiction. In order tTo determine whether the home state would be an inconvenient forum, the home state court is to analyzes specific factors. These factors include location of the evidence and witnesses, any acts of domestic violence, the financial situation of the parties, and the familiarity of the court with the pending matter. If, after looking at the factors, the home state court determines that another state would be more convenient, then it must decline jurisdiction and allow that other state to take on the case.

2. Emergency jurisdiction. In situations where a child (or the child’s sibling or parent) has been abandoned, abused or threatened with harm, a court may exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction even if it is not the child’s home state. However, any order issued by a court exercising jurisdiction under this exception will be temporary in nature, as its purpose is to provide immediate protection of the petitioner.

3. Unjustifiable conduct. This exception applies to cases where one party has engaged in unjustifiable conduct in order to improperly obtain home state jurisdiction in a certain state. Two examples of such unjustifiable conduct would be: (a) taking a child from a state without notice to the other parent and (b) withholding information about where the child is. If the home state court finds such unjustifiable conduct to have taken place, the UCCJEA requires that court to decline jurisdiction—and allows the court to also penalize the wrongdoer by ordering them to pay reasonable expenses associated with the action.

If you are currently involved in a child custody/visitation dispute, and/or know or suspect that your former spouse plans to leave the state with your child, you need to consult with a qualified family law attorney immediately. The family lawyers of DiPietro Family Law Group are experienced with in all child custody issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Contact us today at (703) 370 – 5555.

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