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Before COVID-19 and all the CDC guidance that goes along with it was a part of our everyday vocabulary, moving and traveling were just a part of everyday life whether it be for a career, to be closer to family, or you simply need a change of pace. I believe, eventually, we will get back to that way of life. Due to our mobility and ease in making a move across states, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was enacted to establish uniformity in determining which state court is appropriate to make decisions regarding child custody and child visitation. However, the UCCJEA only specifies which court should decide a child custody case, not how the case should be decided.

Certain rules apply regarding UCCJEA and the initial child custody jurisdiction under Arkansas law § 9-19-201:

  1. The state is the home state of the child on the beginning date of the proceeding or was the home state of the child within six months before the proceeding starts and the child is absent from the state but a parent or person acting as parent continues to live in this state.
  2. The court of the home state of the child can decline to exercise jurisdiction on the grounds that the other state is more appropriate, and:
    1. The child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or person acting as a parent have a significant connection with the state other than physical presence; and
    2. Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, education, and personal relationships

When deciding which state has initial jurisdiction, the UCCJEA utilizes a priority hierarchy of four principles for taking jurisdiction over initial child custody determinations. The four tests in order of priority are:

  1. The child’s home state – Either the state where the child lived for at last six consecutive months immediately prior to the beginning of the proceedings or if the child no longer lives in the state, it was the state where the child lived within six months before proceedings start and a parent still lives in the state. In some situations, no state is considered to be the child’s home state or the home state declines jurisdiction, then the second test will help provide for jurisdiction.
  2. A “significant connection” between state and parties to a child custody dispute requires that the residence of relatives and the child’s best interests will be met in that particular state.
  3. Emergency jurisdiction when the child is present and the child’s welfare is threatened due to lack of reasonable care or supervision or where the child is subjected to abuse. A state where the child lives may exercise this test to issue temporary orders relating to custody matters.
  4. In the event there is no other state with another sound basis for taking jurisdiction, this final test is often called the “default test” if all other tests were not met.

The UCCJEA does allow for some modification. Sometimes a parent wants to modify a custody order in a different state than the court that the initial custody order was rendered. A court in another state can modify the original state’s court’s order only if:

  1. The proposed state has jurisdiction under home state or significant connection jurisdiction tests; and
  2. Either the original court determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction or the proposed state would be a more convenient forum; or
  3. The original state’s court of the proposed state’s court determines that neither the child nor parent lives in the other state.

Parental relocation is one of the most popular reasons a modification to child custody and visitation is requested. There is much to be considered when a modification is requested. Kevin Hickey Law Partners has countless years of experience in modifying child custody, visitation, and support. If you are in need of a modification, give us a call today.

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