Navigating Child Custody Orders Across State Lines

Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP

As a loving parent, you probably want to keep your kids nearby. However, if you’re not in a relationship with your coparent, this can be difficult to accomplish. After all, they want to keep your kids close just as much as you do. When your lives and homes diverge, figuring out child custody can become incredibly complicated.

This is particularly true if you or your coparent want to move across state lines. While you both have a right to spend time with your offspring, interstate custody laws add complications. Here’s what you need to know about how child custody laws are handled across state borders, what you need to do to follow your order, and how to change your order if you need to move states.

How Child Custody Orders Cross Borders

There’s no federal law regarding child custody orders. Every state handles parenting disputes internally, based on its own rules. That means that they each have slightly different laws and case precedents determining how local judges assign parenting time and legal rights.

For obvious reasons, this makes it challenging to maintain consistent enforcement across borders. That’s why most states have adopted the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The UCCJEA is a “uniform” bill designed to be implemented in every state to simplify custody matters across borders. Uniform bills allow states to work together or enforce the same rules on complicated issues without requiring the federal government to enact a law. Today, everyone except Massachusetts has implemented a version of the UCCJEA.

The purpose of the UCCJEA is to clarify how custodial agreements are followed and enforced across borders. It doesn’t change local laws about the development or custodial orders. Instead, states that implemented the Act agree to honor and enforce parenting agreements and orders originating in other states.

The Act’s goal was to make it easier for states to cooperate regarding custodial disputes and enforcements. Since 49 states and the District of Columbia have enacted it, almost the entire country follows the UCCJEA rules.

Jurisdiction for Child Custody Orders Under the UCCJEA

According to the UCCJEA, the place where a child has most recently lived for six consecutive months is considered their “home” state. This is the state with jurisdiction over their custodial arrangements. For instance, a child who’s always lived in California would automatically have California as their home state. Even if they recently moved to Oklahoma, if they haven’t lived there for six straight months, California remains their home state.

If there are any doubts about a home state, the court is responsible for determining it based on “significant contacts.” These are connections the child has in different jurisdictions, such as friends, family, and schools.

The child’s home state is the only one in which their custody order can be written or altered. According to UCCJEA states, no matter where the kid is taken, they are still under their home state’s jurisdiction in custodial issues.

Following Custody Orders Across State Borders

The UCCJEA doesn’t alter your state’s laws regarding child custody. It gives other states the power to enforce the orders you already have in place. The specific restrictions regarding interstate travel and moves and the consequences for violating your parenting order depend on your state’s laws.

For instance, California has strict laws regarding child custody and parenting time. A critical element of these orders is the move-away rule. Parents with primary custody of their kids can move around with minimal restrictions unless the other parent can prove that the move would harm the children. However, parents with joint custody must get the other parent’s permission if they are moving a significant distance.

Furthermore, if you want to travel or move out of state with your children, you typically need to get the other parent’s permission. Your order may even have specific restrictions on taking the children out of state that require a judge’s permission to lift.

This means that you need to be extremely careful if you want to leave the state with your kids for any reason. Read your order carefully and consult with an attorney if you have any doubts about what you can do with your kids.

How to Have Your Custody Arrangement Changed for Interstate Moves

Interstate moves are a common reason for adjusting child custody arrangements. You might want to update the order and accompanying parenting plan in situations like these:

  • You need to move out of state for work, and your coparent is trying to block your move
  • Your coparent is moving out of state, and you want to keep your kids with you
  • Either one of you is moving, and you disagree about how to adjust the parenting plan to account for the extra distance

California offers ways to request changes to your arrangements without your coparent’s approval in case of a “significant change in circumstances.” You need to fill out specific forms explaining why you need the change and argue why it’s “significant.” New jobs and interstate moves are typically considered important enough to warrant a change.

Once a judge has agreed that there’s a significant change in circumstances, you’ll most likely need to meet with a mediator to discuss your request. If your coparent is contesting your requested change and the mediator isn’t enough to help you settle on a new visitation and child custody agreement, you’ll need to go to court.

You will both present your arguments, and the judge will decide whether the change is reasonable. The judge will then either dismiss the change or give you a new parenting plan and custody agreement that you both must follow.

Get Legal Help to Handle Interstate Child Custody

Custodial disputes are never easy. They only get harder when you throw in the distance and complications of interstate moves. That’s why it’s so important to have trustworthy legal help on your side.

The experienced family law attorneys at Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP, are ready to help you solve your interstate custody issues. Schedule your consultation today to discuss your situation and fight to keep your kids nearby, whatever that means to you.

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