If your child’s other parent lives in another state, there are a few issues which you need to consider.
Can the court in another state change a child custody order?
All states except Vermont and Massachusetts have their own version of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act laying down the factors to be considered by the court when deciding child custody and how to deal with child custody ordered passed by a court in another states.
Generally, a court can pass an order on child custody if (according to order of preference):
• The state where the court is located is the child’s home state. To be considered as the child’s home state, the child must have lived with a parent in that state for at least 6 months before the legal action is initiated or the child was living in that state but was removed from the state by a parent.
• The child has significant attachment with the state including connections to grandparents, doctors, teachers, etc besides substantial evidence in the state concerning the child’s protection, care, training as well as friends and other personal relationships.
• The child is placed in the state for safety reasons, i.e. the child was removed from another state because of actual or perceived threat of neglect, abuse or abandonment.
• None state of the states meet any of the above three requirements or the state that meets at least one of the three requirements declines to assert jurisdiction.
If the state court does not meet any of the above requirements, the court cannot exercise jurisdiction even if the child is currently in the state. If the child has been removed to or retained in the state by a parent so as to make the state the home state of the child, the court will refuse custody to that parent. When two or more states meet the above requirements, only one state can pass order on child custody. So if a court in one state passes an order before a court in another state, then the order of the first court will be binding.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act created consistency in interstate child custody order and deals with the issue of parental kidnapping.
Here’s an example: Jack and Jane were married in California. Jack got a job offer from Illinois and the family moved to Illinois where their child Stacey was born. Eight years down the line, Jack had enough of Jane, and decided to end the divorce and so moved to Texas taking Stacey along with him. He took an apartment on rent in Dallas and then filed for divorce in Dallas and asked the court to award custody to Jack. However the court cannot exercise jurisdiction because Stacey’s home state is Illinois and she has no significant connection with Texas. However has Jack removed Stacey from Illinois because Jane was physically abusing her, the court could have asserted jurisdiction.
The Full Faith and Credit Clause
The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution require courts to enforce valid orders and judgments from courts in other states.
Prior to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act judges often disregard interstate custody agreements and orders even if they are valid in the state that approved or issued them. More often than not, the courts tend to pass orders based on the evidence before it. This led to a situation where there would be many custody orders concerning the same child. So if you had a custody order from one state and your spouse has a custody order from another state and if you take away the child based on the order you obtained, you can be held liable for parental kidnapping based on the order your spouse obtained in another states. With the passing of the Act, such situations do not arise anymore.