What You Need to Know About the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

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In this article, the Maryland and D.C. family law attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl discuss the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”).

The UCCJEA was drafted and proposed in the late 1960s. It was officially passed by the first State in 1968 and, since then, has been enacted in the same form by all fifty States and in the District of Columbia.

Prior to 1968, State courts had power over child custody questions based on the child’s physical presence in a State. In addition, there was no clear legal rule about whether the courts in one State were bound by the decisions made by courts in another State. The legal rules were complicated, and often, the courts of one State would make a different decision.

This created confusion and conflict with respect to which child custody Order should be enforced. This also gave parents incentives to move children to one State to obtain a “more favorable” ruling from the courts in the new State. Indeed, since being physically present in a State gave the courts power, this kind of situation incentivized parents to kidnap their children.

To combat these and other problems, the UCCJEA was drafted and, as noted, has now been adopted in every State (and the District of Columbia). Among the most important legal principles embodied in the UCCJEA are rules with respect to the following:

  • Establishing which State has the initial jurisdiction to decide child custody questions based on where the child lives.
  • Requiring each State to abide by child custody decisions made in another State.
  • Setting the conditions for when a State may acquire jurisdiction over child custody issues as time goes on.

On the first question, the UCCJEA uses a “bright line” rule that provides that jurisdiction over child custody issues is given to the State where the child lives. Further, where a child lives is determined by where the child has lived for six months before a child custody case is filed. Thus, for example, if a child has lived in Maryland for three years, then Maryland courts have jurisdiction to decide child custody issues. This is true even if the child is taken to live in Virginia or the District of Columbia. However, once a child has lived in Virginia, for example, for six months, then Virginia becomes the State with jurisdiction. Under the UCCJEA, the State with jurisdiction is called the “Home State.”

On the second question, the UCCJEA mandates that all states’ courts recognize and enforce decisions made in other states. In particular, if a home state court issues an Order concerning child custody, other States must recognize and enforce that Order. This is called giving “… full faith and credit …” to court decisions of other States. This is important because, generally, any effort to change the original custody Order must be filed with the court that issued the Order. Under the UCCJEA, the court that issues the first child custody Order is often called the “Initial Decree Court” (and the original Home State can also be called the “Original Decree Granting State”).

At the start, the Initial Decree Court is in the original Home State. But, if the child moves to a new Home State, over time, the new Home State can obtain jurisdiction and have the power and authority to modify decisions made by the Initial Decree Court. The UCCJEA establishes these rules, which are based on how long the child has lived in the new Home State, the agreement of the parents, the legal question being presented (just as visitation), and other questions. Under the UCCJEA, the new Home State courts can also exercise jurisdiction over “emergency” situations.

Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys

Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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