WHAT IS THE UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION AND ENFORCEMENT ACT (UCCJEA)?
The UCCJEA is a uniformed code that clarifies the jurisdiction of child custody and visitation suits.
When one party files a suit in Texas and the other party files in another state, the UCCJEA tells us where the case is going to be handled. Code sections are adopted by individual states, so each state has adopted a form of the UCCJEA. They don’t all look exactly the same, but most are very similar. Put simply, a child custody or visitation case is filed in the “home state” of the child. The “home state” is where the child has lived for six months or longer, though brief periods of absence are counted as part of that six months. If the child hasn’t been living in a state for six months, then we look to the last state where the child lived for that period of time. If the child is less than six months old, then we look to the state where the child has resided since birth.
It is important to notice a distinction: the UCCJEA addresses jurisdictional issues for custody and visitation, but not child support. Jurisdiction for child support issues are governed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).
So what do you do if you’re in Texas, your child’s home state is somewhere else, and there’s an emergency that needs to be handled right now . . . in Texas? The UCCJEA has an answer. If Texas doesn’t have jurisdiction because another state has it under the code, Texas can still exercise emergency jurisdiction on a temporary basis. This is like putting a Band-Aid on the problem until the Court of the proper jurisdiction can hear the issues and make a determination. This also means that if the proper state has already had a hearing, the emergency jurisdiction section of the UCCJEA will likely not be used to take temporary jurisdiction.
The reverse of all of this will also apply. If Texas is the proper state for jurisdiction, another state might be able to exercise emergency jurisdiction, but ultimately the case should be handled here.