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How to Determine Jurisdiction in a Multistate Custody Dispute

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We live in mobile society where it is common for a family to re-locate from one state to another, across the country, or even to a different country with ease. The economy has had many effects on parents.  As a result, jobs move frequently and relocations, which might have only been across town, can now involve moving thousands of miles across the country. If that happens and a custody dispute occurs between parents spread across two different states, how do you decide which state hears the case? 

Jurisdiction refers to a court's ability to properly hear and decide a matter. When parents are located in two states, the first question that must be answered is which state has jurisdiction to decide the case. In Massachusetts this issue is governed by the UCCJEA, also known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

First, Massachusetts would have jurisdiction if it is found to be the home state of the child. The home state is defined as the state in which a child lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to beginning the child custody case. This only applies provided that at least one parent remains as a resident of the state. 

Second, Massachusetts would have jurisdiction if a court of another state is not found to be the home state and it is found to be in the child's best interest because the child and one or both parents has a substantial connection with Massachusetts and evidence relevant to the case is present in Massachusetts.

Third, Massachusetts would have jurisdiction if another state that would have jurisdiction has declined to exercise the jurisdiction.

Finally, Massachusetts would have jurisdiction if no other state would have jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.

This home state definition can prove very important in some custody cases. A good example would be if a couple, A and B, decide to divorce and A takes their two young children from Massachusetts to Florida. A then files a child custody dispute in Florida, arguing that Florida has jurisdiction as the children's home state. This is not accurate, as B remains in Massachusetts and the children resided in Massachusetts for at least six consecutive months prior to the case being filed. Thus, Massachusetts would be deemed the home state and therefore should have jurisdiction.

If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through email or telephone 978-844-4095 to help guide you through the process of divorce and subsequent modifications. 

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Law Offices of Renee Lazar
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