Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) is legislation adopted by every state for the purpose of determining which state has jurisdiction over, and authority to make decisions for, a child in a custody case. The UCCJEA has four main sections, all of which cover jurisdiction and enforcement related to child custody cases that cross state boundaries. To explore this concept, consider the following Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act definition.

Definition of Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act


  1. S. law that addresses child custody jurisdiction and enforcement issues.


1968     as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. Updated and adopted as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act in 1997.

Overview of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The issue of jurisdiction in child custody arises when one party involved in the case resides in a different state. This is especially common if a divorce is pending, or if child custody arrangements have not been finalized before one party moves to another state. The issue of child custody and visitation is handled by family courts, but determining which state’s family court will handle the case can become problematic if parents are unsure of custody and jurisdiction laws. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was enacted to prevent confusion, or the mishandling of multi-state jurisdiction and custody.

History of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act

In 1997, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws created the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act as a modification to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act of 1968. The original Act failed to address all issues related to jurisdiction in child custody cases, specifically falling short on parental kidnapping prevention. The issue of parental kidnapping was later addressed by the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, adopted by Congress in 1981.

The enactment of the UCCJEA in1997 provided a comprehensive guide to jurisdiction in child custody cases that bridge state lines, as well as the issues of when children involved in custody can be transported across state lines. As of 2015, all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have fully adopted the Act into law.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act of 1968 (“UCCJA”) was created to discourage non-custodial parents from kidnapping their children and taking them across state lines. Before the Act was in place, non-custodial parents would often move their children out of state and find a court in the new state willing to reverse previously issued custody. The UCCJA specifies how legal jurisdiction is established in child custody cases, and prevents modification of a custody order in which another state has maintained jurisdiction.

Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act

The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1981 (“PKPA”) was created to address the issue of determining which state has jurisdiction over a child custody act in a different manner from the UCCJA. The PKPA gives priority to the child’s home state in determining jurisdiction unless all parties involved leave that state. The PKPA specifies that, once a state has exercised jurisdiction in a child custody matter, that state retains exclusive jurisdiction over the child until every party to the case has moved out of the state.

The UCCJEA not only replaces the UCCJA, but works to enforce the issues outlined in the PKPA. In 1998, the PKPA was amended to cover grandparents in addition to parents.

Objectives of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The UCCJEA is important legislation, as so many Americans are mobile, moving easily from state to state. While this is not typically an issue, it can become problematic if one parent lives in a state different from the child or the other parent. The primary objectives of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act are to address the issue of determining which state will have jurisdiction over the child in a custody dispute. This includes:

  1. Initial custody determination
  2. Exclusive and continuing jurisdiction
  3. Modification of custody determination
  4. Emergency orders

Initial Custody Determination

To determine which state has proper jurisdiction to make an “initial determination” of child custody, the UCCJEA specifies the following:

  1. The home state of the child is one in which the child has lived in for six months immediately before the custody proceedings began. If the child is under the age of six months, jurisdiction falls to the state in which the child was born.
  2. If no single state has jurisdiction based on item 1, jurisdiction falls where the child and parent have significant connections other than residence. This may include extended family ties.
  3. If a state has jurisdiction as defined by provision 1 or 2, it may decline to exercise this jurisdiction if it wishes to do so by transferring jurisdiction to another state.

For example, Jason has lived in Missouri with his parents for two years when his parents file for divorce. Jason’s mother moves to Illinois, and he remains in Missouri with his father. Even though the mother is now a resident of Illinois, Missouri continues to have jurisdiction over the custody of the child, since this is the state in which Jason resided for the previous six months.

Exclusive and Continuing Jurisdiction

The UCCJEA also provides that, after a state has claimed jurisdiction, by hearing a custody matter and making an order, that state retains exclusive and continuing jurisdiction until:

  1. The court determines that the child and parents no longer have any connections with the state.
  2. There is evidence pointing to the fact that another state should have jurisdiction.

For example:

Maria and Bob divorce in California, and Maria moves to Nevada with the children after obtaining a custody and visitation order. Bob continues residing in California, and the children visit him there on holidays and during the summer. A few years after the divorce, Bob files a motion in a California family court requesting modification to the custody order.

Maria objects to the motion, claiming that, because the children reside with her in Nevada, the California court is not the proper place for a custody motion. However, because the California court had exercised jurisdiction by making the original child custody and visitation order, it retains jurisdiction over Bob and Maria’s children.

Modification of Custody Determination

Once a state has claimed jurisdiction over a custody case, a court in another state does not have the authority to modify the custody order, unless the original state determines that it no longer has authority, and transfers jurisdiction to the new state. This provision of the UCCJEA is a safeguard to prevent a parent from appealing a custody decision made in one state changed in another to obtain a more favorable order.

For example:

After Maria and Bob get divorced and obtain a custody order in California, Bob moves to Florida, and the children spend their summers there with him. Bob decides he would like the children to live primarily with him instead. However, he cannot ask a Florida court to modify the custody order, as the court in California has exercised and maintains jurisdiction over the children.

Emergency Orders

On occasion, situations occur in which a child needs immediate protection. When this occurs, a court may make an emergency order which only remains in effect until the issue of which state has jurisdiction can be answered. If it cannot be determined that another state has jurisdiction over the child, the state making the emergency order is considered to be the child’s home state, and the court may make permanent orders.

As additional protection in an emergency of parental kidnapping, the UCCJEA gives prosecutors in the state holding jurisdiction over the child the authority to enforce any custody and visitation orders. This enables law enforcement to locate a missing child, and to return him to his custodial parent.

For example:

Jane and Rob divorce, and Jane moves to Utah with their daughter. Jane is later arrested on suspicion of child abuse and neglect, and the court in Utah is unsure of where jurisdiction over the child truly lies. In this case, Utah can claim emergency jurisdiction to determine how the child will be protected until the court determines which state has rightful jurisdiction over the child. It is probable that the state in which Jane’s father lives is the state with jurisdiction, especially if it previously issued a custody order. This must be proven to the court in Utah, however, before the case will be handed over.

Exceptions to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

There are few, if any, exceptions to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. In order to claim jurisdiction, a state must meet at least one requirement as listed in the UCCJEA. If it cannot meet any of the requirements, it cannot claim jurisdiction, even if the child is residing in the state at the time. If a parent has unlawfully removed a child from his home state and appeals to a court in another jurisdiction to change the custody order, the request will be denied, as the new court does not have the authority to modify an existing order. If more than one state meets the requirements needed to establish jurisdiction, only one state can claim it.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Binding – Having power to bind or oblige; imposing an obligation.
  • Custody – The protective care of something, or someone.
  • Divorce – The legal termination of a marriage.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.

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