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Can an out-of-state court approve a custody award?

When parents divorce, one parent may decide to move to another city or even another state, especially in instances when the divorcing couple lives in a rural area. Rebuilding a life after divorce can prove very difficult for a parent who feels isolated from his or her primary supports. Family, friends and forged ties with other community members are important, and often one parent may choose to move out of a rural area, taking the divorcing couple's child along.

Interstate custody arrangements are innately difficult for all parties involved, because there are very few instances in which a couple can reach an agreement that truly offers fair consideration to the rights and preferences of both parents while still protecting the best interests of the child.

A court may approve an interstate custody arrangement, but will require that it abides by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which governs many basics of child custody arrangements. This Act allows states to maintain their individual sovereignty while providing a common basis for custody actions that many states use cohesively.

Courts disapprove when one parent attempts to game the system

If a divorcing parent wishes to leave town and head to another state, he or she may try to take the child out of the jurisdiction of their home state's court. Once resettled, the parent will then file a custody petition there. UCCJEA allows states to work together to prevent one parent from gaming the system and receiving a custody award unfairly.

Under UCCJEA, a parent may not generally relocate to another state and simply walk into a family court to request a custody ruling. In order for a court to issue a custody award, it must meet one of three standards:

  • The issuing state must be the child's home state. In order to qualify as the child's home state, the child must live within the state with one parent for at least six months before that parent seeks custody.
  • The issuing state must be home to individuals who share a significant relationship with the child. This may include grandparents or close friends, or even other significant relationships, such as medical care providers or educators.
  • The child must flee his or her home state because of potential or existing harm. If a parent flees to another state and presents a court with evidence that remaining in the child's home state is unsafe for the child, the court may have authority to issue a custody award. This is most common in instances of parental abuse by the other parent.

Consider all your options carefully

If a state does not meet one of the three requirements for issuing a custody award, the parent seeking custody will likely not succeed. If you hope to obtain a custody award from a state other than the state where you and your spouse lived until you chose to divorce, be sure that you understand the limitations of this process and the requirements you must meet. Careful consideration of these issues can help ensure that you have the legal tools you need to protect your rights as a parent, as well as further the best interests of your child.

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