In a previous blog, we discussed the history and purpose of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which allows the court that initially handled a support order to retain continuing exclusive jurisdiction as long as either of the parents or the child remain a resident of that state. The issues that are addressed by the UIFSA (e.g. the enforcement and dispute resolution of interstate family court orders) are critical components in the governance of custody disputes when parents are living in separate states. Laws pertaining to interstate custody disputes were established in 1974 under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, and was replaced in 2004 with the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
The main purpose of UCCJEA was to prevent plaintiffs from selecting the court system that was more likely to give them a favorable verdict. By mandating cooperation between states via continuing exclusive jurisdiction, parents could no longer outmaneuver each other or the court system by being the first one to file in the state of their choice. As a general rule, jurisdiction is given to the state that is more significant to the child's life. For example, jurisdiction will remain in New Jersey as long as one parent and the child live in New Jersey, and there is substantial evidence of the child's care, education, personal relationships, etc., existing within New Jersey.
There are, however, three other criteria that must be may be considered depending on the family's circumstances:
- Home state jurisdiction: Jurisdiction may be given over to the state in which the child has lived in for at least 6 months. Home state jurisdiction may also apply in the case where a child has recently been moved from a state in which he or she has lived for at least 6 months.
- Emergency Jurisdiction: A child is present in the state, but has been abandoned or is in need of immediate protection from abuse or neglect. The key word here is “immediate”; meaning that there is good cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger
- Best interest jurisdiction: It is in the child's best interest to have the case heard in another state. Although rare, there are situations where the jurisdictional state does not qualify, or has failed to exercise jurisdiction. However, the most important consideration for this criteria is whether transferring jurisdiction to another state is ultimately in the child's best interest.
The truth of the matter is that custody issues are complicated, whether or not you live in the same state. Forming the best legal strategy for resolving your dispute requires a thorough understanding of the current statutes and legal precedents. If you are dealing with custodial interference, parental kidnapping, or any other custody-related dispute, please consider speaking with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. From basic legal advice to representation from an experienced trial attorney, our lawyers look forward to addressing your concerns during a free initial consultation.