To better understand Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, let’s start with the basics.
What Is Jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction, a key concept in all lawsuits, refers to a court’s power (or lack thereof) over the parties of a case. In order for a court’s orders to be legally binding, it must have both jurisdiction over parties (personal jurisdiction) and case content (subject matter jurisdiction). While subject matter issues rarely arise in family lawsuits, personal jurisdiction is relevant to many inter-state and international custody cases.
How Does a Court Demonstrate Personal Jurisdiction?
Parties to family law cases are not automatically subject to the personal jurisdiction of another state “solely by reason of having participated, or of having been physically present for the purpose of participating, in the proceeding” [Texas Family Code 159.109]. Instead, courts may establish:
- “Home state jurisdiction” over a parent and child who have lived in the state for six consecutive months prior to initial filing;
- “Significant connection jurisdiction,” over suits involving a substantial quantity of evidence originating from the state; or
- “Default jurisdiction” when either all other jurisdictions have declined to exercise authority or no alternate jurisdiction exists. Texas courts will likely decline partial jurisdiction over Suits Affecting Parent Child Relationships if another state has authority to hear all issues.
Understanding the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act
Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a party may request that a court exercise “temporary jurisdiction” if a child has been abandoned, or if otherwise necessary to prevent abuse, neglect or mistreatment. If no custody case is initiated by an out-of-state court with full jurisdiction for a period of six months, an emergency custody determination may become binding when a child establishes a new home state.
Interstate Support Enforcement
The UCCJEA is a set of uniform laws enacted by states to aid in clarification of jurisdiction in custody suits. These laws also provide a means for courts to enforce out-of-state orders, discouraging “forum shopping.” UCCJEA laws allow courts which originate custody determinations to retain “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” over all related issues. If one party has moved out-of-state, the suit’s originating court may continue to enforce orders. If both parties have moved, then enforcement actions must be filed in a child’s new home state.