It is increasingly common for parents to move away from the county or state where their original divorce or paternity judgment was entered. As the job market becomes more global, parents follow new opportunities and are expected to accept job transfers. With increased use of dating websites, parents’ new relationships are not limited locally. When a parent moves from their residence at the time of divorce, how do they modify visitation, custody, placement, and support from their new location?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, a law in force in most states, determines how judgments are modified when the parents no longer live in the same state. The UCCJEA, in most instances, prevents a judgment from being changed by the courts of the relocating parent’s state as long as the other parent lives in the original state. There are several reasons for this. First, it prevents confusion between the states, which both may be asked to modify the same judgment. Different state courts would apply different local rules, and probably reach different conclusions. The parents, police, child support agencies, etc., would not know which order to apply. Second, the UCCJEA prevents “forum shopping,” in which a parent could move to a state with rules that would be more favorable to his/her position, then try to change the judgment using the new state’s rules.
The UCCJEA requires that, as long as one parent or the child lives in the original (“home”) state, the custody, visitation, and placement of the children can only be modified in that state. The “home” state retains “exclusive continuing jurisdiction.” The UCCJEA actually prevents the new state of the relocating parent from assuming responsibility for modification. There are very few ways of avoiding this requirement. One, the parents can agree to have the case heard in the new state. Two, if neither parent lives in the “home” state, the new state can assume jurisdiction. Third, if the original judgment did not address custody, placement or visitation, the new state can possibly issue an initial order on those issues. Fourth, the “home” state can also determine that it no longer has a sufficient connection to the parents and children, but there would be more information available about the child in a different state. The most common means of successfully changing jurisdiction is #4, but it requires the parent to convince the “home” state’s court that another state has better information about the child. Courts are generally very careful about giving up their right to monitor their judgments, so this tactic can be rather difficult.
There are many instances when it makes sense to modify a divorce or paternity judgment in a different state. The rules are specific and complex, and the procedure usually requires legal work in two states. I do not recommend attempting to address this issue without a lawyer. If you have concerns about this issue, from either the perspective of the “home” parent or the relocating parent, I highly encourage you to contact me for a consultation. I regularly work with clients to address this issue, and would be happy to clarify your options.