Jurisdiction, as it relates to child custody, is an extremely complex sector of family law. Many parents have learned first-hand that when they live in different states, devising an arrangement can get tricky. In these situations, the first issue that must be resolved is which state has jurisdiction over the custody case. The state that has jurisdiction is responsible for hearing the case and making a custody determination.
While child custody jurisdiction is intricate, we'll highlight the fundamentals to hopefully give you a better understanding.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was enacted to create some form of uniformity in determining which court in which state is the suitable one to make child custody and visitation decisions. The UCCJEA solely regards jurisdiction and doesn't cover any of the logistics of cases, like adoption, juvenile delinquency, contractual emancipation, and other case details.
The UCCJEA has established several hierarchical principles as methods of determining jurisdiction. They include (1) the “home state,” (2) the “significant connection,” (3) emergency situations, and (4) presence of the child with no other basis for taking jurisdiction.
The “Home State”
The first phase of deciding jurisdiction is determining the child's home state. The home state is given priority and is defined as the state where the child has resided six months before proceedings are to start. At least one of the parents must live in the state for it to be considered.
For example, if a child has lived in Pennsylvania for the past six months or the child lived in Pennsylvania for at least six months before filing a complaint for custody in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania will be deemed the child's home state.
A Significant Connection
If there is no home state, or if the state refuses to exercise jurisdiction, then a state where the child or one of the parents has a significant connection may be able to claim jurisdiction. A significant connection requires more than the child's presence, there usually are relatives in that state or there's a reason why it's in the child's best interest. All substantial evidence will be collected in this state.
For instance, if a child and her parents no longer live in Pennsylvania, it will obviously no longer be the home state. If the child moves with her mother to Texas where she has lots of family, and the father moves to New Hampshire where there is no family, then it's likely that Texas would now have jurisdiction over the case based on the significant connection principle.
In cases when a child has been abandoned, or when the child and his or her guardian has been subjected to abuse, the state where they currently reside may exercise emergency jurisdiction under the third principle. After an emergency order is entered it will remain in effect until the child's true home state is determined. If this doesn't happen, the state that enacted the emergency order shall become the child's home state.
If none of the above principles apply to a child's situation, then the state they currently reside in must exercise jurisdiction.
Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
Jurisdiction matters in child custody can be incredibly complicated. If you are hoping to resolve child custody issues and have questions about jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, contact Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.