Interstate Child Custody

January 31, 2024 | By Doppelt and Forney
Interstate Child Custody

Family law issues are usually determined by state law, meaning that, for example, the laws that govern your divorce will be determined by the state in which you legally file for divorce. And although there may be similarities in family law codes and practices among the states, each state retains unique requirements regarding family law matters, including how child custody will be determined.

Because of today’s mobile society, in which people not infrequently move from one state to another, this means that legal problems regarding the issue of child custody are very common when parents decide to live in different states.

If you are dealing with an interstate child custody issue, the San Diego child custody attorneys at Doppelt & Forney can help. We provide legal advice, assistance, and representation to clients in many San Diego communities whose children spend part of their time in other states.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

To deal with interstate child custody issues, every state with the exceptions of Massachusetts and Vermont has adopted a set of laws known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the Act).

The purpose of the Act is to provide a means for states to avoid conflict of law problems in matters of child custody. That is, it establishes rules to dictate which state’s laws govern in questions of child custody in situations in which the parents live in two different states and may seek custody under two different sets of state laws.

The baseline question under the Act is establishing which state is the home state of the child—instead of the parents. The child’s home state is defined as the state in which the child has been residing with a parent for at least six months prior to an action being brought in state court. A child custody action may only be filed by either parent in the child’s home state.

Accordingly, a parent normally cannot remove a child out of their home state to another state and file a custody action in the new state. If one parent does take the child out of state, the parent who remains in the child’s home state should hire an attorney and file an action in the home state, even if the child has recently been removed to another state. Time is of the essence due to the six-month period for jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.

The primary exception to this rule is if the parent removed the child from the home state for the child’s safety, such as if the other parent is guilty of abuse or neglect. A parent who wrongfully removes a child to another state, however, may be denied custody.

If, for some reason, more than one state can meet the home-state test, actions can be filed in both states, and, if both states exercise jurisdiction, the customary practice in San Diego Family Law Court is a UCCJEA telephonic conference between the judges from both states to determine which state has jurisdiction. The Act specifically emphasizes the applicability of the “Full Faith and Credit” Clause of the Constitution, by which each state must give full faith and credit to judgments rendered in other states, including custody orders.

As a result of so many states having adopted the Act, there is less conflict regarding interstate child custody issues today, at least with respect to which state courts may exercise jurisdiction over a child custody matter, and therefore which laws will apply in a given case. The Act’s provisions have also made it unavailing for parents to engage in unethical conduct, such as kidnapping a child and in violation of an existing court order moving to another state in order to gain an edge in a child custody dispute.

However, the Act cannot resolve all issues related to interstate child custody. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which parents, even if they have established a valid custody arrangement, will need to deal with the logistical complications associated with one parent moving to or living in another state.

Hire the San Diego Attorneys at Doppelt & Forney for an Interstate Child Custody Issue

If you need to deal with an interstate child custody issue or with another legal matter affecting your children, such as child support, contact one of the San Diego lawyers at Doppelt & Forney, APLC, for a free in-person or virtual consultation. Call 800.769.4748 or contact us online.

We serve people in San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, La Jolla, Point Loma, Coronado, Del Mar, Ramona, El Cajon, La Mesa, and other communities in the greater San Diego metropolitan area.