In divorce and family law cases involving children, the court must ascertain whether it has custody jurisdiction. In other words, the court must make a determination about whether it has authority to decide custody and visitation issues.
Custody jurisdiction is not a big issue in the average family law case. The other parent in the case often lives in the same state, as do the children. But sometimes, the courts of another state have jurisdiction. Sometimes, this is because the other parent lives out-of-state and is pursuing an out-of-state divorce.
Custody jurisdiction is governed in most states by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Utah is one of the states that has adopted the UCCJEA as part of its child custody law. This blog post speaks as to Utah’s version of UCCJEA.
Generally speaking, in new cases, UCCJEA provides that the home state of the child has custody jurisdiction. The home state is where the child has lived (with a parent figure) for the six months before the case begins. For children younger than six months, it is the state in which they have resided since birth with a parent. If the child moves to a new state with one parent, and the other remains, the original state retains jurisdiction for six months. The jurisdiction question becomes more complicated under different circumstances. For instance, both parents might move to different states at the same time.
Once a court has made a custody decision in a case, it has exclusive continuing jurisdiction over custody. This can be problematic if parents need to modify custody, but have moved since the last court order. Unless jurisdiction is changed, parents seeking to modify custody will need to come to the court with jurisdiction.
Jurisdiction can be changed. And there are certain circumstances where it may be desirable for the parents to make that change, transferring child custody to another state. For example, if both parents have left the state, they want a court closer to them to have jurisdiction.
In Utah, the jurisdiction change process typically begins with registering the original custody order with the court. This will get Utah to acknowledge the existence of the order. But it does not give Utah jurisdiction. From there, there are then some different avenues to get jurisdiction changed to Utah. If the Utah court can ascertain that neither parent lives in the original state and that the child is in Utah, it might be able to take jurisdiction. With the cooperation of the original court, a Utah court can also decide to take jurisdiction.
The process for changing jurisdiction can be complicated for even attorneys and judges. The answers and procedures often depend on facts unique to each family’s situation. The attorneys at Christensen Law have experience with UCCJEA and with parental rights in Utah. They can help you evaluate your specific factual situation and explain how UCCJEA applies to your case. They can then help you navigate the process for registering your custody order and asking for a change in jurisdiction.