UCCJEA in Washington

Most states, including Washington, have now adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA established a hierarchy for determining which state has jurisdiction in family law cases dealing with child custody matters. The UCCJEA was created in order to reduce several problems including:

  • the occurrence of competing jurisdictions entering conflicting interstate child custody orders;
  • forum shopping; and
  • delay in complex child custody legal proceedings often encountered by parties where multiple states are involved.

Under RCW 26.27.021(3), a “child custody determination” is defined as a judgment, decree, parenting plan, or other order of a court providing for the legal custody, physical custody, or visitation with respect to a child.


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Jurisdiction for a Child Custody Determination in Washington

RCW 26.27.201(1) sets forth the jurisdictional basis for making a child custody determination by a court in Washington. Unless a Washington court exercises temporary emergency jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.231, that court may properly exercise its jurisdiction and make an initial child custody determination only if certain statutory requirements are met.

A Washington court may properly exercise jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.201(1) only if:

  • Washington is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state;
  • The court in another state does not have jurisdiction under (a) of this subsection, or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum under RCW 26.27.261 or 26.27.271, and:
    • The child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
    • Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships.

Where a child has a home state pursuant to the UCCJEA, that state's courts have priority with respect to questions of the child's care and custody. Unless the courts of the home state decline to exercise their jurisdiction, no other state's courts may properly exercise jurisdiction.

Under the UCCJEA, a “home state” is defined as "the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding.

In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with a parent or person acting as a parent."

For purposes of determining the home state under RCW 26.27.021(7), a period of temporary absence of a child, parent, or person acting as a parent is part of the period.


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Effect of a Temporary Absence of the Child or Parent

Under RCW 26.27.021(7), the UCCJEA explicitly provides that in the six-month time period necessary to establish a child's home state, “[a] period of temporary absence of a child, parent, or person acting as a parent” from the state is “part of the period”.

When evaluating whether an absence was intended to be temporary or permanent, courts of this state and other states consider the parents’ intent.

The courts in Washington weigh a number of factors in order to determine whether an absence was temporary. Those factors often include:

  • the parent's purpose in removing the child from the state, rather than the length of the absence
  • whether the parent remaining in the claimed home state believed the absence to be merely temporary
  • whether the absence was of indefinite duration
  • the totality of the circumstances surrounding the child's absence.

Courts have found that temporary absences can include court-ordered visitations, vacations, and business trips.


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Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction for Child Custody Determinations

Where a superior court is not authorized to exercise its jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.231, it may nevertheless exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction if:

  • the child is present in this state;
  • the child has been abandoned; or
  • it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with abuse.

If there is no previous child custody determination entitled to be enforced pursuant to the UCCJEA and no custody proceeding has been commenced in a court having jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.201 through RCW 26.27.221, then a “child custody determination” made by a court exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction “remains in effect until an order is obtained from a court of a state having jurisdiction under RCW 26.27.201 through RCW 26.27.221.”

If there is a previous child custody determination entitled to be enforced, or a custody proceeding has been commenced in a state having jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.201 through RCW 26.27.221, then an order issued by a Washington court while exercising temporary emergency jurisdiction must specify in the order a period that the court considers adequate to allow the person seeking an order to obtain an order from the state having jurisdiction pursuant to RCW 26.27.201 through RCW 26.27.221.


This article was last updated on Monday, October 23, 2017.

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