One of the defining aspects of the modern era is that people are much more mobile than they used to be. It’s no longer uncommon to move several times during a lifetime — even great distances.
This can get tricky, however, when you’re a divorced parent. Generally, your parenting plan and custody agreement will set the terms for what you can and cannot do — including how far you can move away from your current location when you have physical custody of your child and the other parent has visitation.
This doesn’t always work out smoothly. In the past, parents sometimes opted to skip over state lines with a child in their custody in the hopes that the family court in the new state would take charge of the custody case when (and if) the other parent caught up. Even though the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution should have ensured that the rulings of a family court judge in one state were upheld in the next state, that didn’t always happen. This created multiple legal loopholes — and traps — in custody battles.
However, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJA) has largely put an end to that. All but two states (Massachusetts and Vermont) adhere to the UCCJA, which grants authority over a custody case to courts in this order:
- The court in the child’s home state, which is where the child has resided (or should have resided but for parental interference) for the prior six months.
- The court in the state where the child maintains significant connections — including teachers, grandparents, other relatives, doctors and friends.
- The court in a state where the child has been relocated for his or her safety (usually due to parental neglect, abandonment or abuse).
If no state can meet any of those tests or declines jurisdiction, then another state can claim control of the case.
Interstate custody battles can still become complicated despite these rules — especially when parents are alleging different facts. If you’re involved in a custody dispute that’s crossing state lines, find out more about your legal options right away.