The Uniform Child Custody Act (UCCJEA)

Determining jurisdiction can be difficult in many cases, including those involving child custody. After a divorce or separation, it is common for one of the parents to move to a different state or location. This move can pose some difficulties because other states have different rules and regulations, and depending on certain factors, that state may have jurisdiction over that parent. When two jurisdictions may control, there can be a conflict between whose law or rules apply concerning a custody order.

The Uniform Child Custody Act (UCCJEA) is a federal act adopted by nearly every U.S. state (not including Massachusetts or the territory of Puerto Rico) which helps simplify the custody process so that orders may be modified and enforced, thereby reducing parental kidnapping risks.

Washington Uniform Child Custody Act Attorneys

If you are navigating the child custody process and need assistance, seek the legal guidance of attorney Shana Thompson at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson. She can answer all of your questions regarding the Uniform Child Custody Act. Attorney Thompson has years of professional experience working with parents on their interstate custody issues in Washington, so you can trust that she has the knowledge and skill to walk you through the steps of UCCJEA proceedings.

Contact us today at (206) 712-2756 to schedule your first consultation and strategy session. We are here for you, to fight for you, and to advocate for your future. Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson assists clients in the Seattle metropolitan area, including BellevueTacoma, Kent, Everett, Shoreline, Renton, and many more cities in the surrounding area.

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Jurisdiction is what gives a state authority to issue or modify a child custody order. A state may be able to assert several kinds of jurisdiction based on the type of case and various other criteria. Concerning custody orders, only one state can exercise jurisdiction at one time. Depending on the particular case, more than one state may properly assert jurisdiction over a custody matter. However, a state that has jurisdiction over that order may decline to exercise jurisdiction if another state is better able to handle the custody issue.

In most cases, the issuing state, or the state where the original order was decided, will have jurisdiction over that order unless it transfers jurisdiction to another state. This means that if one parent moves to a different state after a child custody order has been issued, they cannot petition the courts in that state for a new order. The order issued by the original state will apply to the parent that has moved to a different state even though they may now be a resident of that new state.

Concerning child custody orders, a few factors may affect where those orders are entered and what state has authority over them.

Home State Jurisdiction

Home state jurisdiction resides in the state where a child has lived with a parent or guardian for at least six months before the start of the custody case or where they were born if they are less than six months old.

Significant Connections

In some cases, there may be no home state jurisdiction. If no state qualifies as a home state, the states where parents reside and where the child has significant connections will have jurisdiction. A significant connection is anything that ties a child to that state. A typical example of a significant connection is the child making trips to that state to visit a parent who resides there.

Emergency Jurisdiction

Emergency jurisdiction may apply if a child is in a state that does not have jurisdiction over them and is in some immediate danger or at risk of kidnapping. Emergency orders are only temporary to address imminent threats to the child and specify a time frame in which the parents must return to the state with non-emergency jurisdiction to address outstanding custody issues. The order will remain in effect until the time frame expires or the court with jurisdiction issues in order.

Suppose a custody order is not in place, and no case is pending to issue one. In that case, the emergency order will remain in effect until another state with non-emergency jurisdiction issues a ruling. If no other state issues an order and no order is pending, the emergency order may become permanent, and the state exercising emergency jurisdiction will obtain jurisdiction over the matter.

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Registering A Child Custody Order In Another State

If you move to another state after a child custody order has been issued, it is essential that you register the custody order with the state where you now live. You must report the order in the new state so the court can address any issues related to that child custody order even when you no longer live in the state where it was issued. However, even after registering the child custody order with the new state, the state where the order was issued retains jurisdiction over that order. Unless some other issue grants the new state jurisdiction over the matter, only the original state court can address issues with the order or modify that order. Registration only allows you to enforce the order in your new resident state.

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Enforcing Child Custody Orders And The UCCJEA

Suppose you have registered the child custody order with the state, and that state is not the state or territory (Massachusetts and Puerto Rico) that has yet to ratify the full version of the UCCJEA. In that case, because the UCCJEA applies, that court has the legal authority to enforce an existing child custody order from another state’s court, even if it does not have jurisdiction over that order.

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Changing Or Transferring Jurisdiction Over A Child Custody Order

In most cases, the state that initially issues the child custody order will retain jurisdiction over that order. However, there are some circumstances where jurisdiction over the order may be transferred or changed.

  • Both parents and children no longer live in that state
  • Evidence related to the order no longer exists in that state
  • Another state has more significant connections to the child
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Modifying Child Custody Orders

As discussed above, a child custody order can only be modified by the state that has jurisdiction over that order. In most cases, the court that issues the original order will retain jurisdiction over it. Even if you live in a different state than where the order was first issued, or the other parent does, only the state that produced the order can modify it unless another state obtains jurisdiction by transfer.

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Additional Resources

Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act 195 of 2001 | Washington State Legislature – All states and territories (except Puerto Rico and Massachusetts) have adopted the UCCJEA. The above link is to the act formally adopting the UCCJEA in Washington.

Family Law Case Forms | Washington Courts: The resource link provides a list of forms relevant to Washington family law cases.

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Seattle Uniform Child Custody Act Attorneys | King County, WA

Washington is a participating state in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act that addresses interstate custody issues.  As a result, if you have legal concerns about interstate custody, such as modifying an out-of-state order or moving to a different state, Washington has legal proceedings according to the UCCJEA to address that. If you are navigating child custody matters, seek the legal guidance of Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson. Our attorneys will take a thorough look at your case and provide you the individualized attention you and your child deserve.

Our offices are conveniently located in Seattle. Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson also serves clients living in Ballard, Greenlake, Phinney Ridge, Northgate, Shoreline, Bothell, Lake City Way, North Bend, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah, and Vashon Island. Call (206) 712-2756 today to schedule an initial consultation.

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