How to determine jurisdiction in a multistate custody dispute

Matt Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What are my custody rights if the other parent moves?”


The country today is a very different place than it was several decades ago. People are far more mobile, thanks to improved transportation and technology. As a result, jobs move frequently and relocations, which might have only been across town, can now involve moving thousands of miles across the country. If that happens and a custody dispute occurs between parents spread across two different states, how do you decide which state hears the case? To find out more about resolving jurisdictional disputes, keep reading.


For sale by owner Charlotte Divorce Attorney Mecklenburg child custody LawyerFirst things first, jurisdiction refers to a court’s ability to properly hear and decide a matter. When parents are located in two states, the first question that must be answered is which state has jurisdiction to decide the case. In North Carolina, and every other state in the U.S., the issue is governed by the UCCJEA, also known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.


What’s the UCCJEA and how did it come to be? The UCCJEA is what’s known as a uniform law, meaning it was designed specifically to be adopted by multiple states, an attempt to harmonize differences when it comes to determining jurisdiction in child custody cases. The UCCJEA was adopted (with some minor modifications) by all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is meant to avoid conflicting answers to how jurisdiction is decided.


So what are the situations in which North Carolina would have jurisdiction in a custody dispute case? First, North Carolina would have jurisdiction if it is found to be the home state of the child. We’ll explain more about how a “home state” is defined in a minute. Second, North Carolina would have jurisdiction if a court of another state is not found to be the home state and it is found to be in the child’s best interest because the child and one or both parents has a substantial connection with North Carolina and evidence relevant to the case is present in North Carolina. Third, North Carolina would have jurisdiction if another state that would have jurisdiction has declined to exercise the jurisdiction. Finally, North Carolina would have jurisdiction if no other state would have jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.


Let’s get back to the first basis for jurisdiction, home state, which is how most of these jurisdictional issues are decided. It’s often the case that that under the UCCJEA, a child’s home state is the one that has jurisdiction to make initial custody determinations. The home state is defined as the state in which a child lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to beginning the child custody case. This only applies provided that at least one parent remains as a resident of the state.


This home state definition can prove very important in some custody cases. A good example would be if a couple, A and B, decide to divorce and A takes their two young children from North Carolina to Florida. A then files a child custody dispute in Florida, arguing that Florida has jurisdiction as the children’s home state. This is not accurate, as B remains in North Carolina and the children resided in North Carolina for at least six consecutive months prior to the case being filed. North Carolina would be deemed the home state and therefore should have jurisdiction.


If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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