The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

Child custody laws differ from state to state, often causing difficulty for families trying to sort custody issues. Here we'll learn how the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act has helped bring uniformity to some of those issues.

Who Has Custody?

Jim and Kelly have separated, and Kelly has moved to a different state. Their two kids currently live with Kelly. When Jim wanted to have them at his place for a few weeks over the summer, Kelly said no. So now what? If Jim goes to the local family court, can he force Kelly to bring the kids back from another state? What if Kelly wants to get full custody because she felt Jim was abusing the kids? Can she go to the court in her state? What if they both file in their own state? Which state trumps the other?

These are some of the issues the Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act attempted to address.

Who Has Authority?

When couples with children separate or get divorced, child custody often becomes an issue. In a perfect world, the parties work it out with as little stress to the children as possible; however, in many cases the animosity is great, or there has even been some level of domestic abuse involving the children. In these cases, the court system can determine custody, visitation and child support by applying that state's laws. Which court applies those laws?

The answer is the court with original jurisdiction, and this also is determined by law. Once a court has jurisdiction in the case, that court will continue to have jurisdiction until further orders of that court. If Kelly hadn't left the state, either parent could petition a court in that state for child custody, and that court would have original jurisdiction until it issued an order saying it doesn't.

What happens when one party leaves the state? Nothing changes if the children stay in their state, as original jurisdiction is based on where the children reside, not the parents. What happens if one party leaves and takes the children with them? Years ago, this would have been a mess. For example, Kelly could move to a different state and file for custody and support. Her state would have original jurisdiction, and if the state was far away, Jim would have difficulty participating in the proceedings.

If the states had different laws governing child custody, which law prevails? Read on to find out the answer.


In 1968, a group of representatives from various states joined to form the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (Act 1) to promote uniformity in child jurisdiction among the states. The problem was that it took years for each state to make it law in that state, and then many states only incorporated a portion of the act. Further, Act 1 did not address parental kidnapping and child support enforcement. Eventually all fifty states signed on, at least in part.

In 1997, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Act 2) was created to address some issues of Act 1 and to include provisions for child support enforcement and parental kidnapping. As of 2016, every state but Massachusetts has adopted Act 2. The first thing it did was create a uniform set of laws for jurisdiction.

Under Act 2, original jurisdiction is appropriate when:

  1. The child has resided in the home state (state where child is seeking jurisdiction) for at least six months preceding the filing of the custody suit.
  2. No other state has original jurisdiction.
  3. All states that have the authority for original jurisdiction have declined jurisdiction, stating that the home state is a more appropriate place for jurisdiction.

For Kelly, this meant that she would need to be in her new state for at least six months before that state's court could have jurisdiction. In the mean time, Jim could file for child custody in his state, the ''home state'' of the children, since they haven't been gone for six months. That judge would then be able to order the children brought back to determine child custody and support.

You're probably thinking, if Jim files and gets an order for custody, why can't Kelly just wait the six months, then her state could get jurisdiction, and then the judge in her state could issue child custody orders. Before Act 2, this happened frequently. After it applied, then the answer was that Jim's court orders would prevail, as his state had original jurisdiction.

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