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Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

Every state in the country creates its own child custody laws. However, problems arose when parents moved from one state to another. In particular, conflicts arose over which court had the right to hear the dispute, called jurisdiction.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act—UCCJEA, for short—is a federal law that addresses these disputes. As the name suggests, it has brought uniformity to child custody disputes when parents cross state lines. Every state was free to adopt the law, and all but Massachusetts have done so.

If a custodial parent has left Ohio with your child, then the UCCJEA might come into play. Our legal advocates for child custody rights examines how the UCCJEA resolves child custody disputes.

The “Home State” and Exclusive Jurisdiction

Generally, courts exercise jurisdiction over the people within its borders. However, this general rule creates problems when a parent flees to a different state with a child.

Imagine that Melissa and Tony have a child together. Melissa is granted primary custody by an Ohio court, but a few years later she decides to move to Wisconsin, where she petitions a court to modify the custody. Because she and her child are now in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin court might want to exercise jurisdiction, which creates a dispute between Ohio and Wisconsin courts.

The UCCJEA resolves this dispute by creating the concept of the “home state.” The child’s home state is also given exclusive jurisdiction over child custody disputes going forward. Consequently, a later state can’t improperly try to modify the existing child custody order—only the home state can.

Identifying the Home State

But which state is the “home state” under the UCCJEA? The answer depends on the circumstances. Let’s look at two situations:

If there is no existing child custody order. The home state is the state where the child and parent have resided for at least six consecutive months before filing suit in court. If the child is under six months of age, then it is the state where the child has lived since birth.

  • For example, a mother and baby could have lived in Ohio for six months and then moved to Iowa, where the mother immediately files suit for custody. In this example, Ohio is still the home state. Iowa cannot be the home state until Mom and baby have lived there for at least six consecutive months. Remember, a child can have only one home state.

If there already is an existing child custody order. Normally, the state that issued the original child custody order retains jurisdiction. To modify, the parents need to return to that court. There are some exceptions to this exclusive jurisdiction. The most common occurs when both parents move out of the home state.

  • For example, a father leaves Ohio with his child, but the mother stays behind. In Illinois, the father tries to modify an existing custody order established by an Ohio court. Because Mom still lives in Ohio, an Illinois court cannot modify the order until the Ohio court transfers jurisdiction.

Emergency Jurisdiction

When a child has been abandoned or is being abused, a court might need to step in on an emergency basis. Fortunately, the UCCJEA allows a court to do this.

Under ORC §3127.18, an Ohio court can exercise temporary jurisdiction on an emergency basis to protect a child whenever the child, a sibling, or a parent is being mistreated or abused or being threatened with abuse.

These temporary orders do not last indefinitely. Instead, they last long enough for the person seeking the order to obtain one from the home state court. For example, a mother might seek temporary custody of her child because it has been abandoned in Ohio. Although Michigan is the home state, an Ohio court can enter a temporary custody order that will last long enough for her to go to Michigan and seek custody.

Enforcing Out-of-State Orders

Parents who have just moved to Ohio should register their out-of-state custody orders with an Ohio court. This is a safe step.

If you need to enforce a child custody order, ORC §3127.36 empowers Ohio courts to do that. Of course, Ohio courts need to be sure that the state that issued the order had jurisdiction to do so. Once satisfied of this fact, however, an Ohio court can use any remedy available under our state’s law for enforcement.

Experienced Child Custody Attorneys

Please contact Lawrence Law Office today if you want to relocate with a child or if you have a dispute with a parent who has moved. Our lawyers understand the UCCJEA inside and out and will take the steps necessary to protect your rights.

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