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Who Has Jurisdiction in Child Custody Disputes?



If you are seeking custody of your child, you need to ask the correct court. Some courts can hear your case, while others cannot. A court may only hear your case if it has child custody jurisdiction.

What Is Child Custody Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is the right of a court to hear and decide the case. A court must have child custody jurisdiction before it can decide a case.

For many years, child custody jurisdiction was difficult to determine. State law and years of court decisions caused conflicts between states and, in some cases, federal law.

Today, all states have adapted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA.  The UCCJEA was written to resolve child custody issues in the correct state. It gives child custody jurisdiction to the home state of the child. The custody case must be decided in the home state.

Which State is the Home State of a Child?

There are several ways of deciding which state is the home state of a child. First, the law looks at where the child and the parents live. The home state is where the child has lived with a parent, or a person acting as a parent, for six consecutive months. The six months must come immediately before the start of the child custody case. For children younger than 6 months, the home state is the state they have lived in since birth.

If the child has not lived in any state for at least six months, jurisdiction is given to the state that has the most direct relationship with the child. The law says that the home state is the one that meets both of these criteria:

  • It has strong connections to the child and at least one parent
  • It is where the court can find the facts about the childs care, protection, training (education) and personal relationships

When a court decides that it is the home state for a child, it has jurisdiction by itself for all child support and custody issues. No other state can make a custody decision during that time.

The UCCJEA is always open to modification by the states and their courts. It is important to consult a child custody lawyer to make sure your state has jurisdiction before starting your case.

Jurisdiction for Child Custody Issues May Change Over Time

Usually, the first court to decide child support and custody issues will make all decisions for the child. In some cases, a different court may have jurisdiction later in the childs life.

After the first case, a parent or guardian may want to modify custody. If some or all of the family has moved away from the original home state, that state may no longer have jurisdiction.

Two states cannot have jurisdiction over a child custody case. If there is a conflict, a state court may decline jurisdiction, and the jurisdiction would move to the other state.

If a child is in immediate danger, any state court may enter a temporary emergency order. The order is a court decision to protect the child and provide for the childs care. It will protect the child until the case is moved to a court with full child custody jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction issues can be difficult and confusing. A child support and custody lawyer can help resolve the issues and make sure that a case is in the right place.