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Custody Disputes When Parties are in Different States


Custody disputes can get complicated, especially when the dispute is between parents in different states or countries. In such an instance, the first issue that must be worked out is to determine which state has jurisdiction over the custody case, meaning which state will hear the case and make the custody determination. This is where the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) comes into play. Initial jurisdiction is decided pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-65.

Home State

The child’s home state is given priority, and is defined as the child’s home state at the start of the custody proceeding or a state that was the child’s home state six months before the beginning of the proceedings and one of the parents still lives in that state.

Significant Connection

If there is no home state or if the home state chooses not to exercise jurisdiction, then a state where the child or one of the parents has a significant connection and there is substantial evidence relevant to the case in that state may exercise jurisdiction.

More Appropriate Forum

If there is not jurisdiction in a state based on home state or a significant connection, then a state that is the more appropriate forum may exercise jurisdiction.

Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction

Emergency jurisdiction is very important for domestic violence victims. It is provided for by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-68, which establishes jurisdiction for a state when a child is present in that state and has been abandoned, or when the jurisdiction is needed in an emergency to protect that child because that child or a sibling or parent of the child is abused or threatened with abuse.

Bad Conduct

Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-72, if a parent obtains jurisdiction in a state because of bad conduct, for example by kidnapping the child and bringing the child to a different state, then that state must decline jurisdiction. The state does not have to decline jurisdiction if both parents agree to the jurisdiction, it is a more appropriate forum than other jurisdictions, or no other state would have jurisdiction. Bad conduct does not include escaping to another state under circumstances that qualify you for temporary emergency jurisdiction.

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