Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Overview

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a law in 49 of the 50 states.

It simplifies how courts (1) establish jurisdiction over child custody cases, and (2) enforce custody orders across state lines.

The UCCJEA does not say anything about how custody or parenting responsibilities should be assigned. It only deals with determining which courts can rule in a child custody case and how custody orders should be enforced across state lines.

What do parents need to know?

What parents need to understand about the UCCJEA is:

  1. If your child is in danger, you can get temporary emergency custody orders in any state
  2. Child custody and visitation orders issued in one state will be enforced in other states
  3. You are not able to move your child to another state in order to try to find a court that is more sympathetic to your custody requests

If a child and both parents have lived in one state, still live there, and don’t plan on moving, then the UCCJEA isn’t going to affect them.

Map of the US states colored by which state has enacted the UCCJEA.
In 2022, Massachusetts will vote on whether to enact the UCCJEA. It’s already law in all other states, with some adopting it as early as 1998.

What is a uniform law?

Uniform laws, such as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, are laws drafted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC).

The ULC is a non-profit created in 1892 and supported by U.S. States. It “provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law”.

In other words, sometimes it makes sense for different states to have the same laws. The ULC helps by researching and drafting laws that state legislators can propose as bills and then vote on.

When one parent moves with a child, which state’s courts are allowed to modify custody orders? Deciding which courts can issue or modify child custody orders is an example of when different states should adopt the same rules.

Why was the UCCJEA created?

The UCCJEA was created to expand and solve issues with the older Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), which was inconsistent with the 1981 federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA).

Both the UCCJA and the PKPA sought to prevent one parent from taking their children away from the other parent in order to get a child custody order granted in a different state.

However, the UCCJA prioritized the “home state” of the child differently in some cases than the PKPA, creating legal inconsistencies. The UCCJEA resolved these differences.

Today, if one parent and the child move out to another state, the home state keeps jurisdiction as long as the other parent still lives there. More details are available in the UCCJEA summary.

In addition, the UCCJEA covers enforcement of child custody orders across state lines, something that existing laws did not address. Today, all states that have enacted the UCCJEA will enforce child custody orders issued by another state.

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