The UCCJEA: What it is & Who is Applies to

If you are have children with someone (whether married or not). if you split up then custody of your children will be a priority. When focusing on the child custody aspect of your divorce, you might come across something called the UCCJEA (the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act). This controls which state will have jurisdiction to handle the case. Be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to the UCCJEA. Our Ultimate Guide to Texas Child Custody Cases is also really helpful.

To properly go through the divorce and child custody process, you may need to become familiar with the UCCJEA. For this purpose, I have written this blog series. In this series, we explain:

  • What the UCCJEA is.
  • Which situations the UCCJEA applies in
  • The UCCJEA and the Court
  • Simultaneous Proceedings
  • Enforcement of the UCCJEA

UCCJA (old law)

UCCJEA has its beginnings in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJ). It was first introduced in 1968, and by 1981 every state had adopted the UCCJA. The UCCJA was created to reduce interstate traveling during a divorce with children. Even a parent can be guilty of kidnapping if they do not inform their spouse that they are taking the child out of state, or if they do so against the other parent’s will. But, this was a fairly common practice in divorce cases. Many parents would take their children to a different jurisdiction in the hopes of finding a court that would side with them. Oftentimes a non-custodial parent would take their children out of state hoping to find a judge who would overturn the custody agreement.

In many cases, this tactic worked. But, it made divorce and child custody agreements very difficult to establish and enforce. The UCCJA therefore, establishes a jurisdiction for a child custody case within one state. Whatever is decided in that state cannot be overturned by a court in another state. It applies to both initial jurisdiction determinations as well as modifications to or enforcement of custody orders that already exist.

In creating the UCCJA, the intention was to regulate initial and post Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship (SAPCR) jurisdiction for custody cases. The UCCJA establishes a consistent set of rules to make sure that each state follows the same guidelines.

The Birth of the UCCJEA

In 1997, the UCCJA was amended, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was created. Originally, the UCCJA did not automatically consider a child or parent’s home state as the state with jurisdiction in the case. While the home state was often considered the state with jurisdiction, this was not always the case. Finally, the UCCJA stated that other states have to honor the jurisdiction of one state until the exercise of jurisdiction no longer applies. Creating the UCCJEA changed these things. It aligned the act with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA). Also, it allowed the UCCJEA to enforce child custody orders across states.

It is a necessary act because many Americans are mobile. It is common for parents of a child to live in different states, especially after a separation or divorce. Without something like the UCCJEA, moving or traveling to another state could change the custody agreement. The UCCJEA standardizes the orders and ensures that they will not get changed based on one parent moving somewhere else.

Limits of the UCCJEA

It only applies to child custody matters. This means that it does not apply to child support issues. If you have questions about child support, you should refer to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which is the equivalent of the UCCJEA for child support. You can find more information about the UIFSA in Chapter 159 of Texas’ Family Code.

Problems with UCCJEA

Even though it seems fairly straightforward, cases that involve this act and jurisdiction issues can be tricky. This is because cases involving the UCCJEA are few and far between. Even an excellent divorce lawyer probably does not have a lot of experience with the UCCJEA. This can make it difficult for a lawyer to properly represent you in a case that involves the UCCJEA and interstate jurisdiction. Make sure that the lawyer that you contact has a firm grasp of these concepts and can assist you in your case. To learn in what situations the UCCJEA applies to child custody arrangements, click here.