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 conformity with” 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 has authority 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.
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.
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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