the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), which is actually a series of federal laws designed to prevent interstate and international “parental kidnapping” of children and promote uniformity among the states when it comes to child relocation. Because family law is one of the few categories of law left almost exclusively to the discretion of the states, there were differences among state laws used to allow a non-custodial parent to take a child across state lines in hopes of petitioning another state court to overturn a previous unfavorable custody order. As a means of preventing conflicting state custody orders, eventually the states adopted the UCCJA to protect the authority of one another and promote the best interest of the child. So how can the UCCJA affect your custody order?
UCCJA Standards for Jurisdiction
It should be noted that the UCCJA does not control or provide standards for the implementation of actual visitation and parental responsibility orders. The UCCJA simply prevents one parent from moving out-of-state with a child and then taking advantage of different standards in a local state court or of the preference many judges may have for their own laws and citizens. Under the UCCJA, a court faced with a child custody dispute can only take jurisdiction over the matter under one of the following four circumstances:
- The court is in the child’s home state; this is the court with priority
- There is a significant connection between the state, the child, and the parties to the dispute
- It is an emergency and the child is present before the court
- The child is before the court and there is no other court that can reasonably take jurisdiction
For example, if the child lives in Connecticut and a parent who lives in New York attempts to initiate a child custody proceeding in the Empire State, the Connecticut Superior Court has priority jurisdiction over the matter—a non-custodial parent cannot take advantage of another state’s laws.
Protecting Custody Orders
One of the most important protections offered by the UCCJA is that, once a state is granted jurisdiction over the matter, the jurisdiction is continuing. This means that even if both parents move to different states, the home state that entered the original child custody order maintains jurisdiction over any future modifications. An exception to this continuous jurisdiction is that a state itself may decide that the child and parents are no longer connected with the state or the state to which the parent and child moved decides that there is no longer any connection with the other state. This is to prevent one parent from having preference over another because a custody modification order was filed in the parent’s home state.