Custody & Visitation Law

Interstate Custody When Parents Live in Different States

It is common for parents to live apart, whether that is hours away in the same state, or in different states. This could happen for a number of reasons, including job changes, needing to be closer to aging parents (grandparents of the child), or maybe just a desire to move back “home.” How does living in separate states affect how you co-parent with each other and how does it affect child custody and parenting schedules?

Interstate custody matters can be difficult, but it is something to think about and is a common issue facing many parents and family courts. An experienced child custody attorney can help you navigate this complex legal issue of interstate child custody, whether you need to move out of state and want to take your child with you or you find out the child’s other parent is wanting to move out of state.

Which State Has Jurisdiction?

If there are already existing child custody orders, the state having jurisdiction will be the state where the court that first issued the child custody order is. If neither parent still resides in that state or no child custody order exists, then you will need to determine the child’s “home state.” This is a legal term, and under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), it means the state where the child has resided for six consecutive months prior to a custody case being filed.

In all 50 states, even those that haven’t adopted the UCCJEA, the definition of “child’s home state” will be the six-month requirement. The UCCJEA helps state courts determine which court will handle child custody cases at every step in the process — from the initial entry of orders to modifying orders, even when a state court needs emergency jurisdiction. The UCCJEA is very complex, and you should definitely consider hiring a family law attorney who is familiar with the UCCJEA if you have interstate child custody issues.

Once you determine which state court has jurisdiction, that state’s law will apply concerning legal custody and other parental rights, such as visitation and sometimes child support. It should be noted that interstate child support issues are handled by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), so if there is an existing child support order and you move to a new state, you need to move child custody orders and child support orders separately under these two legal doctrines.

Things to Consider If Moving Out of State

There are several things to consider if you’re planning to move out of state with your child, or if you’ve found out the child’s other parent is moving out of state. The biggest is probably how such a move will affect your child — meaning, how often do they see each of you now and how will moving impact how often your child sees each parent?

You may be moving after a divorce or after separating from your child’s other parent, but your child deserves to see both of their parents as often as is practical. While there may be valid reasons for a parent to have restricted physical custody, such as physical abuse or a substance abuse issue, in general, a court will put a lot of thought into what kind of parenting time schedule will be in the best interest of the child.

Some of the main things to consider when moving out of state are:

  • Travel time between you and your child’s other parent
  • Cost related to travel (will you be able to drive or will your child need to fly)
  • School schedules and the school system in the new location
  • How your child is integrated into the current community where you reside (activities, extended family, and your child’s personal relationships with the other parent, friends, and family members)
  • Current legal and physical custody orders

Get an Attorney’s Help for Interstate Custody

Remember, child custody laws can change once you cross state lines, so it is important to know which state’s law applies. If there is an existing child custody order, unless it has been modified, that court order remains in effect even if you’ve moved.

If you need to modify that court order due to a child custody dispute, then you need to figure out which state has jurisdiction to handle the child custody dispute and can modify the existing court order. A custody lawyer will be an invaluable resource in navigating such a complex legal issue.

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