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What Is an Interstate Custody Agreement?


Child custody is one of the most complicated and contested parts of the average divorce case. When divorced parents live in two different states, child custody becomes even more confusing. The family will need what is known as an interstate custody agreement to tackle the challenges of this unique situation.

When Can a Parent Move Out of State?

After a divorce involving children, the parents typically do not have the freedom to move wherever they want. They must go through the proper channels before moving, especially moving out of state or to a different country. This involves getting the other parent’s permission to make the move or obtaining a signature from a judge. If two parents do live in different states, they will need an interstate child custody agreement to plan parenting time.

What Is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was created to make it easier for parents to navigate a joint custody arrangement from different states. It is a federal law that enforces certain rules and guidelines for interstate custody arrangements. Here are the basics of how the UCCJEA works:

  • It determines which state has original jurisdiction in a child custody dispute. Then, it requires all state courts to enforce a valid child custody order that was made by the original court.
  • It identifies the original custody action as beginning in the child’s “home state,” or the state where the child has lived for at least six months prior to the custody case being filed.
  • It gives the originating state jurisdiction to modify a child custody or visitation order, as long as the child or one of the parents still lives in that state.
  • If neither the child nor parents live in the originating state, jurisdiction over the child custody case will follow the child to his or her new home state.
  • Emergency jurisdiction can be granted to the state where the child is, if the courts find that this is needed.
  • Jurisdiction can also be changed if one parent is part of a domestic violence situation in the originating state, if the two states are very far apart, or if one or both parties do not have the financial means to travel.

The UCCJEA can make it easier to navigate a child custody agreement that involves multiple states by determining which state has jurisdiction over the custody order and where custody disputes must be resolved. It also requires parents to give adequate notice to all other involved parties regarding a custody matter.

How Does an Interstate Custody Agreement Work?

Every case is unique. If two parents live in different states after a divorce or legal separation, the custody arrangement used will depend on what is in the best interests of the child involved. The arrangement will depend on factors such as the distance between both households, how well the parents communicate with each other, and the child’s connections to his or her community and school in his or her home state.

Interstate custody agreements have to take into account the mechanics of a child traveling to a different state – for example, will someone travel with the child? Who is responsible for paying for travel costs? If a joint custody agreement is chosen, the child typically will not go back and forth within the same week to two different states. Instead, the child may spend summers with one parent and the rest of the year with the other parent, for example. Video calls may also be implemented. 

If a custody dispute arises, the parents will rely on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to determine which state has jurisdiction over the order. Then, the parents will file papers in this state to resolve the custody dispute. If you and your ex-spouse are co-parenting across state lines, contact a child custody attorney to help you navigate the complexities of your interstate custody agreement.

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