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Top Things to Know About an Interstate Custody Dispute

Top Things to Know About an Interstate Custody Dispute

Who is awarded child custody when parents live in different states? As child custody lawyers know, many factors can come into play. Even though courts act in the best interests of the child in custody matters, custody in different states is not always awarded by the same sets of court rules. Nonetheless, there are important common considerations to know upfront.

What Is Interstate Child Custody?

Regardless of the state (or states) where divorcing parents reside, there are several types of custody orders a judge can decree. These include:

  • Legal Custody, which designates which parent (or both) is authorized to make important decisions for the child. Legal custody can be awarded to one parent as sole custody or to both parents as joint custody.
  • Sole Custody, in which only one parent is granted the right and responsibility to make the important decisions for the child
  • Sole or Primary Physical Custody, which normally goes hand in hand with a sole or primary physical living arrangement. In a sole physical custody arrangement, the child lives with one parent full-time; while in a primary physical custody arrangement, the child lives with one parent most of the time.
  • Joint Custody, in which both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the child’s care and upbringing

Sometimes, parents with joint custody reside in different states. This creates an interstate child custody situation and necessitates an interstate legal custodial arrangement.

Which State Will Hear My Dispute?

When custody is disputed and an interstate custody situation or challenge exists, the rules governing which state has custodial jurisdiction are set forth in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA (sometimes also known as the UCCJA).

What Is the UCCJEA?

When divorcing spouses live in different states, the UCCJEA determines state jurisdiction. Except for Massachusetts, every U.S. state plus the District of Columbia has adopted and enacted the UCCJEA.

This Act, drafted in 1997, establishes standards by which courts make custody determinations, as well as standards to be followed when a court must defer to a pre-existing custody ruling from another state. Under the UCCJEA, a state court can determine custody and custody arrangements based on the following conditions and factors, in order of preference:

  • “The state making the custody decision is the child's home state” (defined as the state in which the child “resided with a parent for at least six months” before the filing of the legal action; or, if the child is absent from the state, where at least one parent resides in the state
  • “The child and at least one parent have significant connections to the state” which can “include connections with teachers, doctors, and grandparents, to name a few. In addition, there must also be substantial evidence inside the state that concerns the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships.”
  • A “more appropriate forum” exists, which leads the “home state or state with significant connections” to decline jurisdiction
  • A “no other state” vacuum jurisdiction is exercised “when no state can meet any one of the above three tests”

For disputed custody in different states, “if a state court cannot meet any of the above requirements, the court cannot issue a child custody judgment even if the child is currently present in the state.” Another significant component of the UCCJEA holds that a parent will be denied custody if that parent has attempted to make that state the “home state” by wrongfully either removing or retaining the child.

Significantly, if more than one state meets UCCJEA standards, only one state will have custodial jurisdiction – the state where a custody ruling was made first. Once a court has custodial jurisdiction, it will retain this jurisdiction unless and until these parameters no longer apply and a subsequent filing to change the custody order is granted.

Based on UCCJEA standards, it is important to file for custody in a timely manner. Premature filing could dismiss the filing and set jurisdiction in another state; filing too late could give another state jurisdiction by virtue of an earlier ruling date.

Key Takeaways:

To better understand who gets child custody when parents live in different states – and to strengthen your interstate custody rights – here are some important considerations and alternatives:

  • “Interstate custody” exists when divorced parents reside in different U.S. states
  • Because child custody in different states could be ruled upon differently or result in interstate disputes, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA, governs the vast majority of interstate child custody cases
  • Thanks to the UCCJEA, a child custody order originating in one state is considered valid and enforceable in nearly all other states; because of this, a custodial parent must follow certain rules and procedures when relocating
  • Due to the complexities involved in securing child custody when parents live in different states, it is essential to engage the services of experienced interstate child custody lawyers such as the attorneys of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.

At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., our attorneys draw on decades of collective experience when handling divorce cases and their many facets, including cases of interstate child custody. To learn more, contact us today at 317-972-8000.

We believe that being an educated legal consumer can help you make the most of the legal experience in meeting your legal objectives. This blog post, for example, provides general educational material regarding child custody in different states. This information is presented by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practice throughout the State of Indiana. It is not a solicitation, nor is it intended to provide specific legal advice. It is an advertisement. Information contained herein is subject to change.


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Dixon & Moseley, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counsel. Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Dixon & Moseley, P.C.

Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. of Indianapolis, Indiana, offers legal services for Indianapolis, Zionsville, Noblesville, Carmel, Avon, Anderson, Danville, Greenwood, Brownsburg, Geist, Fortville, McCordsville, Muncie, Greenfield, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Fishers, Bloomington, Lafayette, Marion County, Hamilton County, Hendricks County, Allen County, Delaware County, Morgan County, Hendricks County, Boone County, Vigo County, Johnson County, Hancock County, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.