Child Custody and Visitation Laws – Interstate and International Child Relocations

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The dissolution, annulment or separation of a marriage many often times result in the relocation of one or both parents to different states or countries for many reasons. Some of these reasons might be legitimate, others not. Interstate and international child moves can become real issues regarding the custody and visitation rights of the parents. One challenge this type of situation presents is how to determine which court has the power to decide a child custody or visitation dispute, after a parent moves out of state or out of the country.

If you want to claim your custody or visitation rights over your child in another state, do you go to the divorce court in your state or do you have to present your claim in the state where the child is now?

Parents in a custody battle over their children have frequently used moving great distances as a technique to delay the compliance of valid orders, to avoid an unfavorable proceeding, or to obtain conflicting custody or visitation orders in order to create a legal conflict. Several laws have been enacted to acknowledge the authority and guarantee the enforcement of custody and visitation orders from cooperating states. Working together, states can also avoid multiple-state litigation. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the Parental Kidnapping Act (PKA), the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) work together to prevent interstate and international parental kidnapping.

The UCCJEA clarifies the issue of jurisdiction by adopting the “home state” doctrine, whereas the court that originally issued the custody or visitation order retains continuous authority to decide any issue regarding that order. This applies to situations such as when a custodial parent moves out of the state and the other parent wants to request a modification of the visitation schedule. The non-custodial parent does not have to move to the other state to claim his or her rights. He or she can file a motion in the same state where the original separation, annulment or divorce order was entered.

In those cases where the child has been moved to a foreign country, the UCCJEA grants the state court discretion in ordering the child’s immediate return, when that country’s child custody laws violate fundamental principles of human rights.

The UCCJEA is not a substitute for the custody or visitation state law. The act provides the guidelines to solve the conflict between different state courts with seemingly the same authority to manage a particular custody or child dispute. The conflict of which court has the power to hear a custody or visitation case has to be resolved before the case can be considered on its merits.

Another great advantage of the UCCJEA is that it establishes new provisions under which the state courts can make their child custody and visitation orders enforceable in other states. The Act provides the states courts with the power to conduct expedited proceedings to enforce custody determinations, to issue temporary visitation orders, to issue warrants for the taking of the child’s physical possession, to give prosecutors of another state the authority to take any lawful action to locate a child and facilitate the child’s return, and to establish a registry of out-of-state custody orders. The prosecutor of the state where the child was moved can, under the Act, install a proceeding to enforce the child custody determination from the home state without the other parent having to be present.