Initial and Continuing Jurisdiction
The UCCJEA has several provisions to determine which state has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. Normally, the state with jurisdiction is the child's home state, which is the state in which the child primarily resides. There are exceptions and provisions for cases in which a child does not have a home state. Once a state that has proper jurisdiction makes an initial child custody determination, the state retains exclusive and continuing jurisdiction and must release jurisdiction before another state can make a custody determination. A Florida court will only release jurisdiction to Georgia if Georgia currently meets the standard for having initial jurisdiction over the child.
For Florida to release jurisdiction to Georgia, a Florida court can use two different standards. The first is the significant connection test. If the Florida court determines that the child, parents and anyone acting as a parent do not have a significant connection with Florida and substantial evidence concerning the matter does not exist in Florida, the court can release jurisdiction. A Florida court can also release jurisdiction if neither the child, parents nor anyone acting as a parent currently lives in Florida. A Georgia court can assume jurisdiction if it makes a determination that none of the interested parties live in Florida. However, a Georgia court cannot rule on the significant connection test. Before assuming jurisdiction, the Georgia court will communicate with the Florida court and make sure Florida does not want to keep the case.
A Florida court can also release jurisdiction to Georgia if the court determines Florida is an inconvenient forum and Georgia is a more appropriate forum to hear the case. The UCCJEA provides eight factors the Florida court will consider in determining whether Florida is an inconvenient forum, including the location of evidence, where the child resides, parties' finances and domestic violence. If one parent lives in Florida, but the child spends almost all of her time in Georgia, a Florida court might rule that Georgia is a more appropriate forum. However, Florida will not automatically release jurisdiction. Instead, Florida will stay its own proceedings to allow the parties to file a case in Georgia. If the parties do not start a case in Georgia, Florida will proceed with its custody case.
The UCCJEA has a strong policy against moving jurisdiction to another state. This is to prevent parents from filing custody cases in a second state because they do not like the first state's orders. It also protects against one parent kidnapping a child, taking the child to another state and benefiting from his own misbehavior. It is not easy to get a state to release jurisdiction over a child. You have a right to represent yourself in court. However, if you want to move a custody case to Georgia from Florida, you should consider hiring an attorney to represent you.