Understanding the UCCJEA

 

We all want what is best for our children, but as parents, we do not always agree on what that means. Never is this more salient than during or after a separation and divorce. Custody disputes can be emotionally draining, frustrating experiences. They can also be legally complex.

An additional layer of complexity arises when parents happen to live in different states, have recently moved, or courts from different states are involved. Part of the problem is that attorneys can only practice law in the states in which they are licensed, that states have different laws and procedures, and that no two courts ever see things exactly the same way. This is why the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act exists.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

A court has to have “jurisdiction” to hear a case and enter orders regarding the parties to a case. Jurisdiction is the Latin term for “law speak”, or “to speak the law”. If a court lacks jurisdiction over a person, or lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case, any order entered by the court is void. That means that it is not an enforceable order, the court has wasted its time, and the parties have spent a lot of money for no reason.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a federal act that was created to provide uniformity when multiple states are implicated in child custody determinations and the enforcement of custody orders. Every state in the country, including Illinois, has adopted the UCCJEA.

UCCJEA Gives Initial Custody to Child’s Home State

When there has been no prior custody determination regarding a child, a key question for attorneys and courts is where to file the case. Under the UCCJEA, the answer to this question is the child’s “home state”, or where they have resided for six consecutive months prior to filing the legal case. For children under the age of six, this is automatically where the child was born.

An exception to the initial jurisdiction under the UCCJEA is emergency jurisdiction in circumstances such as child abuse or neglect, or family violence. Further, a parent cannot benefit when they have “unclean hands”, an example of which is if a parent kidnaps a child, moves the child to another state for six months, and attempts to file the suit there for a more advantageous ruling.

Modification of an Existing Order

Regarding the modification of existing custody orders, the UCCJEA prohibits Illinois courts, or courts from other states, from modifying the existing orders of another state’s court unless: (1) the court of the other state determines it no longer has continuing exclusive jurisdiction or a court from this state would be a more convenient forum; or (2) an Illinois court or the court of another state determines that that child, the parents, and anyone legally acting as a parent no longer lives in that state.

The Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas Can Help You

Interstate child custody disputes are difficult to navigate. You can end up wasting countless hours and expenses fighting custody if you end up getting an order from a court without jurisdiction. Call The Law Offices of Robert S. Thomas. I have practiced family law for over twenty years and can help you get the essential UCCJEA questions answered correctly. Let me help you with this critically important task. Contact my office at 847-392-5893 to schedule an appointment or visit our website today.

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