With our ever more mobile society, the notion of always living in the same state, county, or town, is a rarity. What happens however when two adults, divorced, or unmarried, have a child together, but are no longer a couple, and one parent moves away? Or, an unmarried couple that never lived in the same state, as long distance relationships are more common with the latest technology advances? When a child is involved, a jurisdictional issue arises. Jurisdiction means, which state court, has the proper authority to make decisions about the child, as inherently two courts cannot simultaneously have this authority, as that would wreak havoc with possibly two different competing orders.
There are many fact scenarios which may give rise to a jurisdictional dispute, but the courts in most states have generally ferreted out the main factors in determining which state should have jurisdiction to hear and determine matters related to a child, such as child support, custody, and parenting time.
The Federal Legislation drafted the UCCJA (Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act), which a state may adopt in whole, in part, or not at all, to address the very issue of jurisdiction. Indiana has adopted the UCCJA, and it is codified under Indiana law in Indiana Code Title 31, Article 21.
Generally, the child’s home state is the proper state to file and litigate matters involving the child. The home state is defined as the place where the child last resided for 6 months.1 However, a state may obtain temporary emergency jurisdiction under certain circumstances, even if the child has not resided in Indiana for the requisite 6 months, with one factor being that the child is physically present in Indiana.2 Temporary emergency jurisdiction only allows the court to intervene and make a decision about the child temporarily, and long enough to give the parties sufficient time to go back to the proper home state court for a final determination.
While it may seem very simple to say one state or another has proper jurisdiction, sometimes these cases can be very tricky, and courts will often be unable to act for long periods of time, while the parties and courts wait to determine which court has the proper authority.
If there is an interstate dimension, which means that if the Mother, Father, and Child do not all live in the same state, or are physically located in the same state, when a problem arises, one must always consider the jurisdictional issue. Oftentimes while the jurisdictional issue is being determine, one parent may not have contact with the child, and it is extremely unfortunate, and clearly not in the child’s best interests, but courts are reluctant to overstep their jurisdictional bounds.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding jurisdiction of the different state courts in child related matters. Every case is different, and it is recommended that you consult an attorney to determine the best course of action to achieve your goals in your specific case. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.