The UCCJA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act), also known as UCCJEA or by other slightly different acronyms in some states, is a Uniform Act adopted in some form (it differs state to state) by the states in the 1980s to aid in the question of which state has jurisdiction over child custody matters.
While federal law is supreme to state law (i.e., the PKPA), the UCCJA is more readily available to most litigants and familiar to attorneys. These state laws are helpful in custody disputes where one parent takes or kidnaps a child, as they allow for a more rapid determination of the legal forum for the litigation based on the child’s “home state.”
Knowing which state should have jurisdiction over the child custody matters can make federal litigation unnecessary as the law is more developed1. While each state has adopted a version of the UCCJA or UCCJEA, there are nuances to each state’s laws. Sometimes these are controlling and dispositive. In most cases, it will be necessary to have an attorney in both states.
The UCCJA is codified in the Indiana Code2 and defines the jurisdictional requirements for Indiana to assume (or relinquish) jurisdiction in a child custody matter. The law also defines when Indiana can make an initial custody determination, when Indiana has exclusive and continuing jurisdiction, and when an Indiana court can modify another state court’s custody order.
For example, to make an initial custody determination, Indiana may be the child’s “home state”, no other court has jurisdiction, or the child’s “home state” has declined to exercise jurisdiction and at least one parent has a significant connection to Indiana and there is substantial evidence in Indiana regarding the child’s care and personal relationships. These are very factually and legally sensitive issues involving jurisdiction.
These laws adopted by each state lay the groundwork for which court has jurisdiction, and which state should be making custody determinations. Therefore, if a parent tries to take, remove, or kidnap a child and file or modify custody in another state, this is a significant legal safeguard in place to discourage this.
By understanding the general application of the UCCJA, this gives you the foundation to make informed legal decisions; most importantly, it enables your attorney and the courts to have a good place to start–all to avoid parents taking children from state to state without the other parent’s permission. This is a supplement to the PKPA. Ultimately, this facilitates the children’s best interests–the focus of all courts in all states.
We hope that this blog post has been informative about how states have enacted laws to prevent parents taking children across state lines and to better define jurisdiction. Stay tuned for posts about international laws which can also aid or prevent child kidnapping and conflicting child custody orders. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.