Child Custody Jurisdiction: UCCJEA
The very first question a court must address in any custody dispute is the issue of jurisdiction – which means whether the court has the authority to grant the requested relief. To address the issue of jurisdiction, Missouri enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA.
The purpose of the UCCJEA is to provide one and only one court in the world to have the ability to consider custody issues in a particular case. Often parents live in different states, and even different countries, after separating, and one parent may want “home court advantage” or wish to find a state where the parent believes the law would be more favorable on a particular issue. To prevent this type of forum shopping, the UCCJEA designates the “home state” of the child as the exclusive forum for deciding custody matters. The home state is the state in which the child has resided for the six months preceding the filing of a custody action. So, as an example, if husband and wife living in Missouri separate and wife moves with the children to Illinois, wife may decide to file in Illinois right away so that Illinois may decide custody. However, if the children have not lived in Illinois for at least six months, Missouri will remain the home state and the presumptive forum to hear the case.
The key thing to keep in mind is that if, after divorce, one or both of the parents move to another state, seek out a knowledgeable attorney who can make sure you’re not wasting valuable resources seeking custody decisions in the wrong jurisdiction.