Interstate Custody Disputes Attorney

Representing Parents in Custody Disputes Nationwide

A child custody dispute is always a stressful situation; and it can cause anguish and confusion when the parents involved in the dispute live in different states. Which state's rules apply? Which state should the case be filed in? If there is more than one option, which is better?

Pursuing Your Goals in the Arizona Courts

Custody and visitation cases involving parents who live in different states are known as "interstate" disputes. In such situations, confusion often arises as to which state has the authority to hear the case and issue an order of custody or visitation.

In 1997, a law was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, to help determine which state should hear a custody or visitation dispute where the parties reside in different states. Known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (the "UCCJEA"), this law does not dictate how interstate custody and visitation cases should be decided. Rather, it provides guidelines for determining which State has "jurisdiction", or the authority to hear the case and issue an Order. The UCCJEA is not effective in every state. In order to be effective, it must be adopted by each State on an individual basis. As of this date, many states have enacted the UCCJEA and many more are in the process of doing so. Arizona has adopted the UCCJEA, which is codified in Title 25, Chapter 8 of our Arizona Revised Statutes.

The UCCJEA sets forth clear rules for determining jurisdiction in two separate situations: (1) where no prior order of custody or visitation has been issued (an "initial custody determination"), and (2) where a party is seeking to change a Court's prior order (a "modification proceeding"). For initial custody determinations, the UCCJEA gives priority to the child's home state. The state where the child resides when the custody proceeding begins or where a parent resides if the child is absent but has lived in the state within the previous six months, is considered the child's home state. That state has the first right to entertain the custody dispute.

Once a state has made an initial custody determination, only that state will have the right to modify the order so long as a party to the original custody determination remains in that state. This is known as "continuing exclusive jurisdiction". Courts from other states are required to enforce the Order of the home state and must, except for in very limited situations, allow the home state to entertain any subsequent modification proceedings.

While other states must defer to the home state for purposes of modifying the initial custody order, they may have the right to issue an emergency temporary order. The UCCJEA allows other states to enter such orders if the children are in the state and have been abandoned or if the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse. Abuse is specifically defined to include, not just the abuse of the child, but also the abuse of a parent. If a court exercises emergency jurisdiction, and is aware of a simultaneous custody proceeding in another state or of an existing custody determination, the court must immediately communicate with the Court that issued the initial order.

The UCCJEA also provides a process to swiftly enforce child custody and visitation orders. This is particularly important in cases where visitation has been denied and a parent needs to move quickly to enforce his or her custodial rights. After an enforcement petition is filed, an order will be issued directing the other party to appear with or without the child If possible a hearing will be held on the next day after the order has been served. If the Court is concerned that the parent with physical custody will flee with or harm the child, the Court can issue a warrant to take possession of the child.

Giving Strategic Advice on Your Options

Depending on the exact circumstances of your case, you may have options when it comes to which state's courts you will use to resolve your interstate custody dispute. I can advise you on your strategic options based on a detailed analysis of your situation and your goals.

I'm Arizona attorney Matthew Schultz, and I have represented clients throughout the United States and other countries who are involved in interstate disputes involving child custody, visitation, relocation and related issues. To get an experienced and aggressive lawyer on your side, contact me at my offices in Tempe to discuss what I can do in Arizona to help you pursue a positive outcome to an interstate child custody dispute. If it turns out that an Arizona court is not the proper state for your case, I will help you find a qualified attorney in another State.