What Is the UCCJEA?

The purpose of the UCCJEA is to allow states to determine which states has jurisdiction regarding custody and visitation and for the court to determine who has “home state” jurisdiction. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) took effect in California January 1, 2000 and, as of that date, replaced the former Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). The UCCJEA applies in all custody/visitation proceedings commenced on or after 1/1/00 and to motions and requests for relief made on or after that date. The purpose of the act is to prevent a parent from going to another state to take advantage of different custody laws or prevent “forum shopping.” California courts must recognize and enforce another state’s child custody determination so long as the forum court exercised jurisdiction in “substantial conformitywith” the UCCJEA or the determination was made under factual circumstances meeting UCCJEA jurisdictional standards and has not been modified in accordance with the UCCJEA.

The UCCJEA sets forth four jurisdictional tests for an initial custody determination (i.e., the first custody determination concerning a particular child). A California court is empowered to hear and determine the matter only if one of these tests is satisfied at the time the litigation is commenced (subject, however, to the permissible exercise of Fam.C. § 3424 “emergency jurisdiction).

The UCCJEA jurisdictional tests are mandatory and exclusive. Custody jurisdiction cannot be exercised on any other basis and, thus, is not conferred by mere presence of, or personal jurisdiction over, a parent or the child in the forum state or by stipulation or consent. Quite the contrary, the physical presence of, or personal jurisdiction over, a child or party is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to the exercise of UCCJEA jurisdiction. So, in other words it does not matter that the child is merely present in California, the other prongs of the test must be met for California to have jurisdiction to hear the custody dispute and for the court to make orders. As between competing forums, UCCJEA jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination is not decided on the basis of which party gets to court first. Only one forum can have UCCJEA jurisdiction at any single point in time; and that is determined strictly under the UCCJEA jurisdictional test. In other words, it does not matter if the child is present in California and one party files first–the jurisdictional test must be met. In deciding UCCJEA jurisdiction, the issue is not what is in the child’s best interests but whether the court hasauthority to engage in that inquiry and adjudicate the competing custody claims.

Child’s “home state”:

California may exercise custody jurisdiction if it either (Fam.C. § 3421(a)(1)):​
  • is the child’s “home state” when the proceeding is commenced (i.e., the date the first pleading was filed; Fam.C. § 3402(e)); or
  • was the child’s home state within six months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from California but a parent or “person acting as a parent” continues to live in California.

The “home state” is the state where the child lived with a parent or “person acting as a parent” for at least six consecutive months immediately before commencement of the custody proceeding; or, if the child is less than six months old, the state where he or she lived from birth with any of such persons.

The minimum six-months forum state residence must exist at the time the custody petition is filed. “[T]ime spent in a forum after the filing of a child custody petition may not be counted toward the time necessary for home state jurisdiction.” The UCCJEA and FPKPA give absolute priority jurisdiction to the child’s
home state in all initial custody adjudications, conferring jurisdiction on an alternative “significant connection” basis only when no other state has home state jurisdiction (or the home state has declined to exercise its jurisdiction under Fam.C. 3427 or 3428)

Deference to home state even if no pending home state proceeding:

The rule of absolute home state jurisdictional priority applies even in the absence of a pending action in the home state. [Marriage of Newsome (1998) 68 CA4th 949, -assuming Calif. had “significant connection” UCCJA jurisdiction, it still had to defer to Texas home state jurisdiction even if no pending Texas proceeding].

A California court can also exercise custody jurisdiction if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
  • No other state has “home state” jurisdiction or a court of the home state has declined to exercise its jurisdiction on the ground that California is the “more appropriate forum” under Fam.C. 3427 (inconvenient forum, or 3428 (unjustifiable conduct,); and
  • The child and child’s parents, or child and at least one parent or person acting as parent, have a significant connection with California other than mere physical presence;
  • Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.
Some examples of this test are:
  • There was not a “significant connection/substantial evidence” basis for the exercise of California custody jurisdiction where, except for the fact that the noncustodial parent resided in California after separation, all evidence concerning the child’s present and future care existed in Canada: The child was born and raised in Canada, she lived there exclusively, and her only contact with California was for short visits. [Marriage of Arnold & Cully (1990) 222 CA3d 499, 503, 271 CR 624, 626; also see Marriage of Ben–Yehoshua (1979) 91 CA3d 259, 266–267, 154 CR 80, 84–85—Calif. custody jurisdiction improper because all significant connections in Israel]
  • California had no “significant connection” to a child who had been missing since he was two days old when his biological mother gave him to the biological father who told her he was going to raise the child in Georgia. Since the child, now 3 months of age, was still missing when the California court purported to exercise dependency jurisdiction, there simply was no evidence available in California, let alone “substantial evidence,” concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships[In re Baby Boy M. (2006) 141 CA4th 588, 600, 46 CR3d 196, 203]
  • Nor did California satisfy the “significant connection” test where the children had been living in Texas with their mother for over three years at the time the California proceeding commenced; and the father had not visited with them (in either Texas or California) during that period. The children had previously lived with their parents in California for four years; but other than the fact the father now resided there, California had no connection with the children when the action was filed and all relevant information concerning their family relationship, schooling, friends, and future care, protection and training was in Texas. [Marriage of Newsome, supra, 68 CA4th at 959]
  • On the other hand, California met the “significant connection” test where, although the child never lived with the mother in this state, he was born here, the mother had commenced custody litigation in California first, and the only reason for the child’s absence from the state was because of his wrongful removal and detention by others without any “colorable claim” to custody. Moreover, to recognize jurisdiction in the contestant’s forum (Wash. D.C.) would have frustrated the underlying purpose of the FPKPA to prevent the taking of children out of state for the purpose of obtaining custody awards. [Rogers v. Platt (1988) 199 CA3d 1204]
  • Similarly, California had “significant connection” jurisdiction notwithstanding the attempted exercise of custody jurisdiction by a Michigan court that was already entertaining a dissolution action. The child (only one or two months old when the jurisdictional determinations were made) was born in California, had since resided exclusively with her mother in California, and had never visited Michigan.
  • Likewise, California had jurisdiction under § 3421(a)(2) where there was no other state with home state jurisdiction when W filed the California custody action: H (a U.S. citizen) had filed divorce and custody proceedings in India only nine days after the family arrived there, and the undisputed evidence established that W (a U.S. legal resident) and the child (born in the U.S. and just under two years old) had significant connections with California beyond mere physical presence here: W had family, work, and financial connections to California; and the relevant current information relating to the child, her daycare, family relationships, friends and activities, as well as her future care, protection and schooling was available in California where W and the child had settled. [Marriage of Sareen (2007) 153 CA4th 371—H submitted no evidence contradicting W’s claims or establishing an alternative location of available important information concerning the child; see also In re S.W. (2007) 148 CA4th 1501 (upholding California “significant connection” jurisdiction in dependency proceeding)]

If you are having problems with the jurisdictional requirements under the UCCJEA, contact us or schedule a consultation online NOW. We look forward to speaking with you and assisting you in your family law issues. We can help answer the question: What is the UCCJEA?

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