Has the other parent of your child left the state without warning? Are you being called to court in that other state? Have you taken a child out of state without warning the other parent? What do you do? What are your rights? Most importantly, what court should handle these important questions?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act answers all these questions. As of the time of writing this, the UCCJEA has been adopted in all states except Massachusetts. The UCCJEA was adopted in response to the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. The most important thing to understand is that you need to act quickly once your child has left the state.
You’ve been served by an out-of-state court, what do you do?
Always answer any summons you may receive. The first thing you need to point out to the court is that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter. Work with an attorney in that state to ensure all court procedures are followed.
This depends on what stage you are at in your family proceedings. If you need to start a case, file immediately in your local county court. The first thing you are going to ask for in these proceedings is a UCCJEA conference. Before you start proceedings, you need to determine whether Washington has jurisdiction.
Under the UCCJEA, there are a few different types of jurisdiction a court can consider. Each type of jurisdiction determines what court will be the one that hears your case. This will determine what state you must resolve the matter in. It is highly recommended you hire two (2) attorneys, one in each state, so you can be advised as to what jurisdiction has the laws that will be favorable to your case.
Home State Jurisdiction
A state has home state jurisdiction when the child has lived in that state for 6 months or since the child was born, whichever is shorter. A state is also considered the child’s home state if that state had been the child’s home state at some point within six months of the commencement of the proceeding. If a parent unilaterally relocates to another state with the child and the stay-behind parent files an initial custody proceeding within six months of the child’s relocation, Washington remains the child’s home state if Washington was the home state of the child before the relocation.
Exclusive, Continuing Jurisdiction
If you have a parenting plan in place from Washington State, a Washington court will retain jurisdiction over the child, even if the child has been out of the state for more than six months. This type of jurisdiction ensures that once a state gains home estate jurisdiction, the other parent cannot make modifications to the parenting plan in another state until the jurisdiction has been changed.
Exclusive, continuing jurisdiction typically terminates when the court finds that neither parent lives in Washington or if the child or the child’s parents no longer have a significant connection with the state or that substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.
Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction
Have you fled a domestic violent relationship? Are there other dangers that require the court to make decisions? The Court may make emergency decisions if the child is present in the state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary for an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with abuse.
When the court exercises its emergency jurisdiction whether there is a parenting plan or custody order to be enforced, the court has to specify an amount of time in which its order is valid that is sufficient for the other parent to bring an action in an appropriate court.
Why does getting the right jurisdiction matter?
If your child has been taken out of Washington State without your permission, it can be much harder to try your case or enforce your rights as a parent. Keeping your case in Washington is important because you want to make sure you have custody of your child during the proceedings. Having witnesses and other evidence locally will assist you in being able to establish that keeping your child in Washington State is in the best interest of the child.
Jurisdictional issues are very technical and having the correct attorney will assist you in understanding what your options are. You want to act quickly in order to establish favorable jurisdiction for you and your children.