Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act in Virginia

By Beverly Bird

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is recognized by 49 states, as of 2012, including Virginia. What this means for parents seeking a divorce in the state is that a court can't rule on your custody issues unless and until your children establish residency there.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is recognized by 49 states, as of 2012, including Virginia. What this means for parents seeking a divorce in the state is that a court can't rule on your custody issues unless and until your children establish residency there.

Child's Home State

The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws initially drafted the UCCJEA in 1997 -- and Virginia adopted it four years later. Its purpose is to discourage parents from taking the children and moving to another state to seek custody there. The 49 states that adopted the UCCJEA honor one another's rights to jurisdiction over custody matters. They won't modify a custody order entered elsewhere without the consent of that state, and they won't issue a new custody order, even as part of a divorce. The rules are complex because some states tweaked the terms of the UCCJEA slightly when they included it in their legislative codes. But one provision is universal: A child must have lived in the state where his parent is seeking custody for at least six months immediately preceding the date when the parent files.

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Relocating Parents

If your spouse moves out of state with your children, you can still file for divorce in Virginia. Under the terms of the UCCJEA, Virginia has jurisdiction to rule on custody even if your children are no longer physically in the state. This assumes that they lived there for at least six months before your spouse took them, and that you still reside there. You have six months to act and file for divorce from the time your spouse and the children leave the state. After this time, the children's new state would gain jurisdiction if they lived there long enough to establish residency.

Emergency Jurisdiction

One exception to the UCCJEA rules involves emergency custody. If you move to Virginia to escape an abusive situation elsewhere, the state can claim emergency jurisdiction. This allows you to file for a temporary custody order, but you would still have to wait six months to actually file for a divorce, because of Virginia's residency requirement. The abuse does not have to be directed at your child – you could be the victim.

Inconvenient Forum

Virginia can waive jurisdiction if the court determines that the state is an inconvenient forum in which to decide custody issues regarding your children. The court must acknowledge that, for one reason or other, deciding custody in its jurisdiction would be difficult or impossible. It must concede that another state is more appropriate -- and this allows the other state to take over. This might be the case if both you and your spouse have moved somewhere else, so neither of you remains in Virginia at the time you file for divorce. The state where your children currently live could accept jurisdiction.

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What Is the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act?

References

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Can a Woman Go to Illinois & Divorce Her Husband in California?

No law or rule exists that says you have to file for divorce in the state where your spouse resides. On the contrary, it's the state where you currently live that matters. You can file in Illinois if you meet the state's residency requirements, but if you have children or property, these issues may complicate things.

How to Move a Custody Hearing to Another State

While family law is normally defined by each state's law, the rules regarding child custody hearings are mostly uniform among the states. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act has been approved by 49 states. The sole holdout is Massachusetts. As a result, the process for moving a custody hearing to another state by establishing jurisdiction elsewhere is generally similar from state to state -- assuming you want to move the initial custody hearing to another state and no court has made any custody determination.

Leaving the State After Filing for Divorce

Before any state can grant a divorce, it must have jurisdiction over both spouses. Jurisdiction gives it the right to decide issues between them. When you file for divorce, your petition or complaint attests to the fact that you’ve met residency requirements. This gives your state jurisdiction over you. When you serve your spouse with a copy of your petition or complaint, your state gains jurisdiction over him. After jurisdiction is established, you can usually leave the state, either temporarily or permanently. However, exceptions exist if you have children.

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