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Court Jurisdiction to Determine Child Custody

We live in an increasingly mobile society with a high rate of divorce.  It is not unusual for a couple to marry in one state and have children, move to another state and divorce, and then have one or both parents move yet again to a third or even fourth state.  Under these circumstances, questions arise about which courts should have jurisdiction to issue or modify a child custody  order.  Further questions arise about whether one state is required to enforce another state’s custody orders, and if so, via what mechanism.  The vast majority of states, including Florida, have answered these questions by adopting the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (the UCCJEA).

The UCCJEA’s purpose is to unify state laws across the country regarding jurisdiction to hear and decide child custody cases. “Jurisdiction” refers to a court’s legal authority to hear and rule on a particular case or type of cases.   Florida’s version of the statute is found here.  The UCCJEA grants exclusive jurisdiction over all custody matters (including visitation and support) to one court in the child’s home state.  This court retains jurisdiction until the parties no longer maintain a significant connection with that state.  For example, once a court has issued a custody order during a divorce proceeding, that court has assumed jurisdiction over all continuing custody issues and only it can modify existing custody, visitation and support orders. All other courts must defer to this court’s jurisdiction and enforce its orders.

How does a court obtain jurisdiction under the UCCJEA?

Before a court can make any ruling on custody issues, it must determine whether it has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.  The statute provides four bases for jurisdiction:

  1. The court has home state jurisdiction if it is located in the child’s home state. This means that the child has lived there for at least 6 months before the court proceeding began.
  2. The court has significant connection jurisdiction if there is no home state with jurisdiction (or the home state court has declined jurisdiction), the child has significant ties to the state, and substantial evidence concerning the child is available there.
  3. The court has more appropriate forum jurisdiction if other states with either home state or significant connection jurisdiction decline to exercise that jurisdiction on the grounds that the proposed court is a more appropriate forum, based on factors such as the convenience and expense to the parties and the availability of evidence.
  4. The court has default jurisdiction (or vacuum jurisdiction) if no other court has any of the above-listed three types of jurisdiction. A court may also take temporary emergency jurisdiction when a child has been abandoned or otherwise needs emergency protection.

Florida law requires parties to any proceeding involving child custody, visitation, or time-sharing, to file a UCCJEA Affidavit with the court that contains the following information:

  1. The number of minor children involved in the proceeding, including name, place of birth, birth date, sex, present address, how long the child has lived there, and all previous residences where each child has lived in the previous 5 years.
  2. The name, present address, and relationship to each child of every person the child has lived with during the previous 5 years.
  3. Whether the party filing the affidavit has participated in any capacity in any custody proceeding involving any of the minor children in any other court.

Consult a Winter Park child custody lawyer

Child custody issues are some of the most important any individual can ever face.  The experienced, compassionate child custody attorneys of Cotter & Zelman, P.A., understand the complex family dynamics involved in any custody matter, and can help to resolve your custody dispute in your child’s best interest.  Contact us for a consultation today.

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