Reasons to Change Jurisdiction in Child Custody

By Heather Frances J.D.

Changing jurisdictions during your divorce can complicate matters, but it’s not always possible or desirable to stay in one jurisdiction until the process is complete. You may want to move closer to your family or you may feel another state’s laws are more sympathetic to your situation. However, you may not be able to legally move your children to another jurisdiction.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The UCCJEA, which has been adopted by nearly every U.S. state and territory, was designed to ease the barriers that existed when custody and parental kidnapping cases crossed state lines. It also establishes jurisdictional guidelines for cases, such as divorce, in which child custody and support are involved. The UCCJEA states that a parent cannot simply move children to another state and file for divorce in that new state. Child custody and support cases must be filed in the state where the children have lived for at least six months, unless there are unusual circumstances. Otherwise, the court has no jurisdiction to decide child custody and support issues.

Relocating the Children

Once you have filed for divorce, you must follow your court’s rules about relocation. State laws vary, but your court may issue an order stating that neither parent can relocate the children without written permission from the other parent. If you must relocate but cannot obtain permission from your ex-spouse, you may petition the court for a modification of the existing custody order or the court's permission to relocate. However, your reason for relocation must be significant. For example, the court might allow you to relocate the children due to military reassignment or to avoid family violence. However, relocating to be near your new romantic interest probably won’t be considered sufficient for court permission.

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Transferring Court Orders

If your divorce decree or support order allows you to relocate to a new jurisdiction, you may need to have the decree or order adopted by the new jurisdiction. This is usually called domesticating or filing in. Your state’s procedures may vary; however, you'll likely need to provide the new court with authenticated copies of your divorce decree or order, along with an affidavit of information about your situation. You must provide your ex-spouse with copies of the documents you filed. Once this process is complete, including any required waiting period, you can bring a case in the new jurisdiction.

Moving Within Your State

If you move from one county to another but stay within the same state, you have not changed jurisdiction; you have only changed venues. However, the court where your divorce was originally filed does not lose jurisdiction to decide your case. Although the new county’s court may be more sympathetic to your situation, your case will usually stay under the jurisdiction of the old county. The original court may allow you to change venues, thereby transferring your case from the old county to the new one, but this is usually frowned upon by the court system and is difficult to accomplish, especially without permission from your spouse.

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Divorce & Jurisdiction


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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.

Custody Extradition Laws

Divorcing parents often fight over custody, and sometimes the custody disputes get so heated that one parent runs to another state with the children. While the parent who takes the children cannot necessarily be “extradited”-- because extradition refers to criminal cases -- he could be forced to return the children to their home state for custody proceedings.

Where Can you File for a Divorce When Your Spouse Resides in Another State?

In most divorces, the separating couple will remain in the same state -- probably even the same county or town. Filing the initial paperwork for a divorce is a straightforward process when the parties live in the same jurisdiction. In some situations, however, one or both spouses move to another state. In these cases, it is important to familiarize yourself with residency requirements before you file for divorce.

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