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Interstate Child Custody Disputes and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Our society is rapidly changing—from technological advances, to medicinal breakthroughs, to the meteoric ascension of the multinational corporation, individuals and communities are forced to adapt to our culture’s fast-paced global expansion.  While there are certainly many factors that have contributed to these changes, our ability to communicate instantly across thousands of miles and travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours has created a society less focused on the proverbial “home roots.”

When parties finalize their divorce or have an order issued relating to their children, what happens when one or both parents have their home roots pulled up by out-of-state job transfers, family issues that require relocation, or new opportunities that send one parent across state lines?  Is the order issued in the first state enforceable by the parent who has moved to a different state?  Can the traveling parent modify the prior order in another state, or are they stuck litigating in the courts of the state that issued the original order?  What if both parents and the child no longer reside in the state that issued the original order?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was crafted to provide answers to these questions.  In a culture where moving across the country has become common place, courts and family law practitioners alike found a need to create uniform provisions specifically dealing with child custody orders.  The need for uniformity is essential due to the variant public policy positions of each state relating to child custody issues.  The UCCJEA was approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1997, and as of now, forty-nine of the fifty states have adopted its provisions—Massachusetts is the lone holdout; however, Bill H.36 would adopt the provisions of the UCCJEA and has been proposed and referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary during their legislative session this year.

In Texas, the provisions of the UCCJEA were adopted by the legislature in 1999 and were subsequently codified in Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code.  The primary statute that addresses which court has exclusive continuing jurisdiction is found in section 152.202, which provides the general rule that the court that has issued a child custody determination retains exclusive continuing jurisdiction over the determination.  However, the statute also provides two circumstances by which the court would no longer retain exclusive continuing jurisdiction:  (1) the issuing court determines that neither the child, nor the child and one parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with its state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in its state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or (2) the issuing court or a court of another state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the issuing court’s state.

Understandably, determining where jurisdiction lies requires communication with not only the parties involved but also with the courts of different states.  In situations involving child custody proceedings that occur simultaneously in the courts of differing states, the need for both courts to communicate with each other is essential to ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of each courts’ process.  To that end, section 152.110 grants a court of this state the authority to communicate with a court of another state concerning proceedings that arise under the UCCJEA.  When two child custody proceedings are active at the same time in different courts, the parties are required to bring this to the court’s attention, and the court shall inform the other court of the simultaneous proceeding and a hearing should be held to determine which court has proper jurisdiction over the proceeding.

Situations involving interstate jurisdiction of child custody issues can be complicated matters.  If the proper procedures are not followed, litigants could find themselves spinning in circles with no clear direction and no way of knowing how to find the light at the end of the tunnel.  Navigating the maze of procedural and jurisdictional complexities involved in interstate custody disputes requires the direction and knowledge of an experienced attorney.  The lawyers at McClure Law Group, PC are well-equipped to handle these complex matters with expertise and efficiency and can be reached by calling 214-692-8200.