What Is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

child custody attorneysWhen the parents of a minor child decide to end their marriage, custody of the minor child is often the single most contentious issue in the ensuing divorce. Unlike most other types of litigation, custody of a minor child is something that can be revisited at any time after the original custody decision is made. For the judicial system, ruling on issues related to custody of a minor child can be difficult and stressful process under normal circumstances. When those circumstances are complicated by jurisdictional issues, the entire process becomes even more complex. For example, if one parent takes the child across state lines, which state has jurisdiction to decide the issue of custody? The child custody attorneys at The Law Office of Jon R. Boys explain how the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was enacted to try and clear up some of these issues.

Why the UCCJEA Was Needed

At one time, jurisdictional issues created a veritable nightmare for parents and courts. If a parent lost custody in one state, the parent simply took the child to another state hoping for a more sympathetic court. All too often they found a court willing to grant or modify custody in their favor. Another common scenario involves a child custody order issued in a state where the parents and the child lived together before the parents’ divorce.  Then the custodial parent moves with the child to another state.  If a modification is sought, which state has jurisdiction to modify the standing order?  If the new state purports to modify the order from the first state, which order is to be recognized and enforced in the first state and in every other state in the United States? What happens if both parents petition the court in their state of residence for a modification? Which court has jurisdiction? Of course, the children were the true losers in all of these situations.

In 1968, the Uniform Law Commissioners promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA).  By 1981, every state had adopted this Uniform Act.  UCCJA was designed to discourage interstate kidnapping of children by their non-custodial parents, something that often occurred. In 1981, Congress adopted the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) which also tried to address the jurisdictional issues related to custody and visitation orders. While both were a step in the right direction, neither completely resolved the problems related to inter-state jurisdictional issues in custody cases.

In 1997, the Uniform Law Commissioners promulgated a new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).  It accomplished two very important things.  First, it reconciled UCCJA principles with the PKPA. Second, it added interstate civil enforcement for child custody orders.

What Does the UCCJEA Do?

Today, it is even more common for parents to move from one state to another as our society becomes even more mobile. Divorce itself often causes one parent to consider moving closer to family members who can provide support and assistance raising a child after the divorce. A parent may also want to move for a better job opportunity or to further his/her education. As a result, the need to clear up jurisdictional issues related to custody and visitation is even greater now than it was several decades ago. The UCCJEA does that by establishing clear bases for taking jurisdiction and by providing rules that discourage competing child custody orders. The UCCJEA does that by:

  • Granting priority to home state jurisdiction.
  • Preserving exclusive, continuing jurisdiction in the decree State if that State determines that it has a basis for exercising jurisdiction.
  • Authorizing temporary enforcement of visitation determinations.
  • Creating an interstate registration process for out-of-State custody determinations.
  • Establishing a procedure for speedy interstate enforcement of custody and visitation determinations.
  • Authorizing issuance of warrants directing law enforcement to pick up children at risk of being removed from the State.
  • Authorizes public officials to assist in the civil enforcement of custody determinations and in Hague Convention cases.

In practical terms, the UCCJEA usually requires you to petition the original court anytime you want to modify custody or visitation. Check with your divorce attorney for exceptions to this general rule. It also means that custody and visitation orders from one state can be enforced in another state. Violating the UCCJEA is a sure fire way to lose custody of your child or to threaten your visitation rights to your child. If you have questions about where to file for divorce, or what court can modify custody or visitation, be sure to consult with an experienced custody lawyer to ensure that you do not violate the UCCJEA.

Contact Child Custody Attorneys

If you have additional questions or concerns about the UCCJEA, contact the experienced child custody attorneys at The Law Office of Jon R. Boyd by calling 972-332-0104 to schedule your appointment today. Appointments available in Plano, Allen, Frisco, or Fort Worth.

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