Written by attorney William Francis

Interstate Custody Disputes

It is not unusual when families break up for one parent to move to another state with the children, or to move away and leave the children. Over the past few decades, the courts, state legislatures and commissions have developed uniform state laws that clearly define the procedures that will be followed when family disputes cross state lines. Similarly, certain treaties may apply to disputes that have crossed international borders. Generally, when parents and children have lived in two states, or in several states and a dispute arises, the courts must first decide which state should assume or exercise jurisdiction. Commonly, judges from the courts of two or more states will schedule a conference call and will discuss the issues presented by a particular situation before making a determination as to the most appropriate forum. Uniform state laws ensure that the judges will apply the same standards in making a decision on which court should hear and decide the case. Consider this example: Mother and Father are granted a divorce in Vermont. Shortly after the divorce, Mother and the children move to Oregon. Father then moves to New York. Three years later, Father becomes unhappy with the schedule for his summer parenting time and wants to make changes, but Mother disagrees. Father gets angry and returns to Vermont. He files a motion for modification and asks the court to order joint custody. Should the court order Mother to return to Vermont to appear and defend in this case? There are many variations of this example, but generally speaking, the courts will try to cooperate in applying the uniform laws and will quickly determine which court should hear the new issues the case presents. In the example above, judges from Vermont and Oregon (and possibly New York) would confer and consider evidence and arguments. In this simple example, the judges would probably agree that the case belongs in Oregon, because Vermont is an inconvenient forum, Oregon is now the children’s home state and most of the evidence that would be helpful to a court in making a decision would exist in Oregon. Most interstate cases are far more complicated. In a situation that involves courts in two or more jurisdictions, it is advisable to consult an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

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