We live in a highly mobile society today, so it is not unusual for divorced parents to want to relocate to a different city, state, or country with their children for personal or work-related reasons. While some noncustodial parents view such a move as beneficial for the children and reluctantly give their blessing, others vehemently oppose the idea of losing regular access to their children.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (PDF Guide) was passed to address this type of family law dilemma. When multiple states are involved, it creates uniformity in deciding which state (and its courts) have the jurisdiction to handle child custody and visitation. The UCCJEA has been codified into New York law as Domestic Relations Law Section 75.

With few exceptions, a court in the child’s home state has the legal standing to issue and change a child custody order. The Act defines “home state” as one where:

  • The child lived for at least six months prior to the commencement of the custody action or, if the child no longer lives there-
  • The state where they resided within six months before the custody action commenced, provided one parent continues to reside in that state.

If the child has no home state or that state does not accept jurisdiction, then the UCCJEA grants jurisdiction to the state where the child and at least one of the parents has a significant connection, such as the presence of relatives or the location of the child’s school.

If the child has been abused or neglected, then the state where they currently live may assume emergency jurisdiction and issue a temporary custody order to protect their wellbeing until the home state can rule on the case. If the child remains there for six months or longer and the home state has yet to act, then the interim state may take on the role of home state and the emergency custody order can become a final one.

Prior to 1997, when the Act was passed, parents would take their children to a different state and get an order granting them sole custody. The original state would have to honor the ruling, to the dismay of the noncustodial parent. Today, once a state has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, its authority is ongoing: no parent can travel to a different state to obtain a modification.

If you are involved in a child custody case and an interstate or international move is potentially in the future, then contact a New York family law attorney who can advise you on how the UCCJEA will apply to the situation and help you take steps to protect your rights as a parent and preserve your relationship with your children.

Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx lawyer with over 35 years of legal experience. He regularly appears in family court and offers free in-person initial consultations. If you have questions about child custody, then call 718-514-6619 to set up an appointment. Visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com to learn more.