We have noticed an increase in custody disputes between parents living in different states. Some of this can be attributed to the increasing mobility of families, and increasing likelihood that parents will relocate for employment. We also believe that as joint parenting becomes more common, parents become less willing to permit the other parent to move away with a child. Whatever the reason, these cases are extremely difficult to resolve because, unlike most family cases, there is a clear “winner” and “loser.” If the parents live in different states, it is almost certain that one parent will enjoy the great majority of visitation. The other parent’s time will be rather limited.
Whether a child is in Wisconsin by agreement or after an abduction from another state, parents must act quickly to protect their custodial rights. The law governing these interstate custody disputes is notoriously complex. Parents must act quickly to prevent abduction.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is a law enacted in 49 states that is intended to address these difficult issues. The UCCJEA is designed to prevent a parent from taking a child to another state and filing a custody action there. With very few exceptions, it is difficult to modify a custody order from one state in a different state. The UCCJEA does the following:
- defines the “home state” of the child;
- establishes which state has jurisdiction to make a child custody ruling
- establishes when, or if, one state can modify a child custody order entered in another state;
- provides a procedure for courts of both states to communicate and resolve where the dispute will be heard
- allows for emergency jurisdiction in cases of danger to the child or parent, and in cases of domestic abuse
- permits a parent who obtained a child custody order in another state to register and enforce that order in Wisconsin.
The UCCJEA also applies to child custody orders obtained in a foreign country, provided that the other country’s laws do not violate basic United States principles. Parents can also take other steps to protect their child if they fear international abduction. Parents should take great care to monitor passports, file passport alerts, and ensure that very specific custodial and jurisdictional orders are apparent in their custody order. Parents should also know whether the country where the child could be taken is a signatory to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php. Although there are ways to retrieve a child abducted to another country, it is always incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. There is no guarantee of success. Therefore, if a parent has even a slight concern of abduction, he/she must do everything possible to obtain specific child custody orders in the United States to prevent the abduction in the first place.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is similar to the UCCJEA, but governs child support, not custody. The Act allows Wisconsin to cooperate more easily with other states to enforce child support orders.
We have successfully tried many of these cases, and we are intimately familiar with the UCCJEA and UIFSA. We will ensure that you are best prepared to protect your child.