Monday, July 18, 2005

The UCCJEA and Child Custody Jurisdiction

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is what is known as a "uniform law." Uniform laws are generally created by a committee representing a national contingency of interested persons, legislators, professionals and others who believe that standard laws among the states would be a benefit on certain issues or in certain areas of the law, commerce, etc. Uniform laws are not federal laws but rely instead on the individual state legislatures to approve and make them the law of each state. The UCCJEA is one such law that has been passed in all U.S. states, including Arizona, where the Arizona family courts routinely addressed UCCJEA-covered issues. Arizona has codified the UCCJEA in Arizona Revised Statutes §§25-1031 et seq.

The UCCJEA must be read in its totality, rather than piecemeal, just because that's the way it was written. As well, there is significant case law in the various state and appellate courts, some of which can vary from court to court but much of which will influence the reading of the UCCJEA. Normally, the single most significant factor in determining jurisdiction over child custody determinations under the UCCJEA is the six (6) month requirement. While Arizona Revised Statute §25-1031 speaks of initial jurisdiction, A.R.S. §25-1033 states that another court can modify an order from another state if the child has resided in the new state for six (6) months. That's how jurisdiction (and the child's home state) most commonly transfers, simply by length of residence in the new state. There has been some discussion over the years over what effect one parent remaining in the child's original home state has on later litigation. From my experience, the six month provision controls in most instances. The comments to the original UCCJA (the precursor to the UCCJEA) acknowledge this issue but did not really clear it up.

In a case where one parent unlawfully or inappropriately removes the child to another state and then seeks a custody or other order related to the child in the new state, the new state, in most such instances, should decline jurisdiction by reason of the wrongful conduct. See A.R.S. §25-1038. In fact, the original UCCJA was designed specifically to prevent the wrongful taking of children. Prior to the UCCJA, parents could take children from state to state until they finally were granted custody to the exclusion of the other parent's rights. Even today, the important timeframes in jurisdiction cases mean that parents should not delay in addressing the issues.

Another important UCCJEA provision is the prohibition against maintaining simultaneous proceedings. In other words, the UCCJEA addresses what happens when one parent files an action in the courts of one state while another proceeding, dealing with the same child/ren, has been filed in a different state.

The UCCJEA also includes a provision regarding temporary emergency jurisdiction. This provision helps protect abandoned or endangered children. Thus, even though one state court does not have proper jurisdiction, that state court may still make an order that will protect a child until proper jurisdiction is determined and the proper court issues a new order in place of the emergency temporary order.

There is much more to the UCCJEA and depending on a given state, the interpretation of the law can vary. Consult an attorney for information that may relate to your specific legal situation.

Wilcox & Wilcox, P.C.
Trent Wilcox
For the Firm

Phoenix office:
3030 N. Central Ave., Ste. 705
Phoenix, Arizona 85012
Ph: 602-631-9555
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Goodyear, Arizona 85338
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Disclaimer: Providing the above information does not establish an
attorney-client relationship. To create such a relationship, both the
attorney and potential client must sign a written fee agreement. The
information contained herein is meant only as general information and is not meant to be relied upon for the purpose of taking legal action. You should contact an attorney in person for further and specific information. Wilcox & Wilcox, P.C. attorneys are licensed in Arizona only except for personal injury attorney Robert N. Edwards, who is licensed in Arizona and Minnesota.

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