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.