The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a uniform set of laws that govern state courts' authority (jurisdiction) to make, modify, and enforce child custody orders across the states. Originally drafted in 1997, The UCCJA was replaced by the UCCJEA to address issues of inconsistencies between the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKFA) and the UCCJA.
The UCCJEA has been adopted by 49 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. As of current, Massachusetts is the only state that has not adopted the UCCJEA (although they have adopted the older Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act [UCCJA]). California initially adopted the UCCJEA in 1999 and the statutes governing the act can be found in California Family Code sections §§ 3400-3465.
There are two primary areas of interstate child custody disputes for which the UCCJEA is designed to provide guidance and clarity to family courts. The first involves determining which state has authority (subject matter jurisdiction) to issue child custody orders, whether by way of an initial order or by way of a modification. The second area concerns the recognition or enforcement of those custody orders in another state.
One of the more important features of the UCCJEA is that it provides for accelerated resolution of enforcement petitions. In cases where there is serious risk that a child may be subject to immediate physical harm or abduction, the UCCJEA permits courts to issue emergency orders to require law enforcement to pick up a child and bring the child to the court hearing on the very next day.
Because a court cannot issue child custody orders until his or her court has jurisdiction to decide the child's custody, it is crucial that custody jurisdiction be established or resolved as quickly as possible.
Shawn assists as co-counsel to help attorneys resolve their jurisdictional questions in their client's cases. Murphy Family Law handles interstate child custody jurisdiction and enforcement cases regularly. As a result, Shawn has significant knowledge with how the UCCJEA is applied in California. For our attorney clients, we also maintain a clear separation between the specialized services provided by Shawn and the general representation provided by you to your clients. Once the jurisdictional issues are resolved we withdraw from the case, so that you can move on to address the substantive issues of child custody and any other issues in your case.
Call Murphy Family Law today to learn how Shawn can work with you in assisting in your client's interstate child custody issues. To get answers to other frequently asked questions regarding the UCCJEA, keeping reading below.
How does the UCCJEA assist parents in enforcing existing custody orders?
In cases where enforcement orders are necessary, those situations usually involve parents who both live in just one state, at least until the time that a divorce or paternity case has been filed. That original state then issues child custody orders. At some point one of the parents moves with the child to another state and then fails in some way to obey the custody or visitation orders spelled out in the original court orders. Because the child and the non-compliant parent are located in a different state from the one that issued the original orders, the parent left behind must then seek to have the child custody orders recognized and enforced by the state to which the child has been relocated.
What forms are used to register an out of state custody order or contest registration?
To Register an out of state custody order in California, you will need to file a Registration of Out-of-State Custody Order on Judicial Council form FL-580 https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl580.pdf along with a Declaration under the UCCJEA Judicial Council Form FL-105 https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl105.pdf .
To contest registration of an out of state custody order, use the Request for Hearing Regarding Registration of Out-of-State Custody Decree (Judicial Council Form FL-585)
How does the UCCJEA assist courts in modifying or making initial custody orders?
The UCCJEA proscribes a set of rules to determine whether a state has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination (including in circumstances in which a court has exercised emergency jurisdiction). This analysis generally starts with a determination of what state constitutes the child home state, or in those unusual circumstances where there is no home state, which state has jurisdiction. The child's home state has jurisdiction to make initial orders. Generally, a state qualifies as a home state of a child if that child lived in that state for a period of 6 consecutive months prior to the filing of any court action for custody orders.
In modifying orders, a state court that made a custody determination, maintains continuous jurisdiction over all matters concerning that child, unless one of two events occur: (1) A court of the state with jurisdiction determines that the child or the child and a parent no longer have a significant connection with the state, AND substantial evidence concerning the child's care, protection, training, and relationships is no longer available in the state; OR (2) A court of the state with jurisdiction, or any other state, determines that the child and both parents or acting parents do not reside in the state any longer. If one of these two events transpire, then
A state that does not have jurisdiction may enter a temporary emergency order, if a child is in danger and needs immediate protection. After issuing such order, the state court must determine if there is an existing custody order from another state in effect. If there is an existing order, the emergency court must allow a reasonable time period for the parties to return to the state having jurisdiction, and address the issues to the court with jurisdiction.
If there is no previous child custody order in existence, the emergency court's order will remain in effect until a determination is made in a court having "home state" jurisdiction over the child. If no determination is made, and the emergency court's state becomes the home state of the child, the emergency order can become a final order.
Does the Petitioner or Respondent have to be a parent?
No. Anyone who has a court-ordered right to visitation, physical custody, physical placement, or other right to have the child with them (even temporarily) can be a petitioner in an interstate custody enforcement case. A petitioner can be a parent, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, step-parent, adult sibling, or even a non-related guardian or legal custodian. While the respondent is typically a parent, anybody who has physical possession or control of a child, in violation or alleged violation of a court order can be a respondent. Thus, a respondent can be a parent, a grandparent, adult sibling, extended family member, step-parent or even a non-related person.
What does it take to get a California court to enforce an out of state custody order?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) provides surprisingly speedy procedures for recovering abducted children and for compelling court-ordered visitation or placement. In fact, if the location of the child and the withholding parent is known, we can often have a court hearing and obtain a court order to take your child from California back to your home in another state sometimes in as little as a few days after your petition to enforce the sister-state order has been filed a court in California. Once the enforcement case itself has ended, there will often be other legal proceedings devoted to tying up loose ends, preventing reoccurrences, or seeking modification of the underlying orders. Those later proceedings usually take place in courts outside of California and are not directly connected with the interstate custody enforcement case. For that reason, this office is generally not involved in handling them.
How Is a parental abduction case different from a typical enforcement case?
In a typical enforcement case, the parent with the child is violating an existing court order by refusing to turn the child over to the other parent. However, the withholding parent is not usually trying to hide or to keep the child's whereabouts secret. Neither is there any serious threat that the withholding parent will pull up stakes or take the child to another state if court action is attempted. By contrast, a parent who has abducted a child typically has made some effort to hide or to keep the child's whereabouts secret. Often, there is a serious risk that the abducting parent will take the child to another state if that parent learns that the child's location has been discovered or that an enforcement effort is underway.
Because of these differences, California's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) authorizes the court to order the police or sheriff to take immediate physical custody of the child (without advance notice) if the court believes that the child is imminently likely to suffer serious physical harm or be removed from this state. Whenever such an immediate custody order is issued, the court must provide for a hearing on the very next day after the child has been taken into custody. If the abduction has lasted much more than half a year, we will also try to enlist mental health professionals to help the child through what would otherwise be a difficult and highly stressful transition.