In nearly twenty years of practicing divorce and child custody law in New Jersey, this is a question that my law firm is frequently asked. While this is a fairly complex area of the law, I trust the following shall be a helpful and useful explanation.
In 1997, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was passed and has been adopted by every state except Massachusetts (which should be passing the UCCJEA shortly). The UCCJEA was passed so that there are clear guidelines as to what state has jurisdiction over a child in family court in order to ensure that children may be protected at all times.
The first thing that must be determined is the child’s “Home State.” For instance, if the child has lived in New Jersey for the past six months OR the child lived in New Jersey for at least six months before the filing a Complaint for Custody in the Superior Court of New Jersey, provided a parent (or someone acting as the child’s parent) still lives in NJ, then New Jersey is the child’s Home State. If NJ is not the home state in this manner, then the state that has the most connections with the child and one of the parents shall have jurisdiction over the child. This way, any and all substantial evidence shall be located in this state. By way of example, let’s say Little Eddie lived with his parents in New Jersey for all five years of his life but then his father moved to New York while Little Eddie remained with his mom in NJ. In this case, N.J. would remain his Home State and a New Jersey family court would handle the child custody case.
Once a New Jersey family court decides custody, NJ shall retain jurisdiction unless a New Jersey family court later determines that it no longer has a significant connection with the child nor evidence needed to make further custody determinations. Of course, if the child and both parents no longer live in New Jersey, then NJ is no longer the home state. So let’s say Little Eddie’s parents’ divorce in New Jersey. Then, Little Eddie and his mother move to New York and his father moves to Florida. Under this scenario, NJ would most likely no longer have jurisdiction to enforce its own custody orders and New York would now have jurisdiction over Little Eddie.
In the case of an emergency, a state that is not the child’s home state may retain jurisdiction if the child is in danger and needs immediate protection. After an emergency order is entered it shall remain in full effect until the child’s true Home State is determined. If that never happens, the state that enacted the emergency order shall then become the child’s Home State. Let’s hope there are no emergencies for Little Eddie.
Child Custody matters are always complicated. As your child is the most important person to you in the world, if you live in New Jersey and have any questions about child custody, please go to our web site or contact my office to discuss your situation.