Factors That Determine Child Custody Jurisdiction
For a court to rule on a child custody issue, the court must have jurisdiction over the child. Below are the major factors, as outlined in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which determine which state has jurisdiction over a child.
Priority is usually given to the child's home state. If the child is at least six months old, then the child's home state is the state where they have been living for the last six months prior to the instigation of the legal action (custody issue). If the child is younger than six months, then their home state is the state where they have spent the majority of their life.
Say your child was born in New Jersey six years ago, but you (plus the child) moved from the state when the child was five years old, and you have been living in Connecticut ever since. In this case, it is Connecticut that will be the child's home state even though the child spent the majority of their life in New Jersey. Thus, Connecticut will have jurisdiction over the child's life.
Ties to the State
There are cases where no home state can fulfill the definition of the child's home state. An example is if you have been moving all over with the child, maybe due to the nature of your job. Maybe you even homeschool the child, so they don't have to stick to a specific location for education purposes. Or maybe you have been touring the world and the child hasn't spent much time in the country.
In such a case, the state with the greatest ties to the child will have jurisdiction over the child's custody. Some of the factors considered here include:
- The state where the child has been spending most of their time
- The state where the child has the most friends
- The state where the child has close relatives
- The state where the child gets most of their medical needs; such as, where the child's doctor or dentist operates
The court will consider the totality of all these factors before giving its decision.
In some cases, a child can be taken out of a state because they are in danger and taking them elsewhere is the best way to guarantee their welfare. Say a child has been living with one parent who has been abusing or neglecting the child. If the other parent learns of the abuse or neglect and takes the child to another state, then the child is considered to be in the new state for safety reasons. In such a case, the state that has been harboring the child for safety reasons will have jurisdiction over the child.
In most cases, an evaluation of the above factors will help identify the right jurisdiction to handle a child's custody issues. In rare cases, a child might lack sufficient factors tying them to one state that can have jurisdiction over them. In such a case, the best of the contenders will have jurisdiction over the child since there is no better alternative.
For more information, contact an attorney or law firm like McKone & Unruh.