UCCJEA prioritizes home state jurisdiction in custody disputes


Residents of Alexandria, Virginia, may probably know that the kidnapping of children by non-custodial parent has been a very common problem across the United States. The purpose of such kidnappings historically was to obtain the reversal of a non-favorable order by the home state court by another state's court.

Authorities soon realized the need for a law that could address the question of jurisdiction in child custody disputes. The Uniform Law Commission introduced the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, or the UCCJA, in 1968. By 1981, this uniform law was adopted by every state in the U.S. However, the law was still vague and unclear on the issue of child custody cases being dragged from the home state to another state.

Later, another law named the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, or the PKPA, was enacted in 1981. Although this law was clear on various issues related to child kidnappings, it still did not provide relief to parents and children who were going through interstate child custody dispute and other issues involving child kidnappings. In 1997, another law was passed, which was named the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA. In addition to reconciling principles of the UCCJA with the PKPA, this new law also clarified the interstate civil enforcement of child custody orders.

According to the UCCJEA, a court in the child's home state has jurisdiction in a child custody dispute. Temporary emergency jurisdiction can only be exercised by another state's court for the period that is necessary to secure the safety of a child and transfer the proceedings to the child's home state. In the absence of a home state, the proceedings will be transferred to a state that qualifies to become the home state of a child, based on another ground for jurisdiction.

The UCCJEA has provisions that prioritize home state jurisdiction, temporary jurisdiction and continuing exclusive jurisdiction. It also added enforcement provisions to the jurisdictional provisions and gave power to states that help enforce orders on custody or visitation from another state, in conformity with the provisions of the Act.

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