Interstate-Custody Rule Relieves Angst(feeling of anxiety)
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Child Custody has always been the most wrenching issue in divorce cases. It always will be. However, it used to be even worse than it is now; much worse.

Before 1981, divorcing parents could file different custody suits in the courts of each of the 50 states. If one parent was unhappy with a judge's ruling in one state, that parent could take the children to another state and start over. It was fairly common for the same two parents to sue each other for custody of the same children in three or four states.

It happened often enough that in the late 70's the states got together and created one law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). It says that the courts of only one state have authority to decide each family's custody dispute, and the courts of all the other states must recognize and enforce that one state's court orders. The UCCJA is not a federal law. It is an example of the states working together.

In 1981, New Mexico joined the other states in adopting the UCCJA.

The law includes rules for how to decide which state is the one with the power. The primary rule is that the state where the child lived for the six months before custody became a problem has the power. The law calls that state the "home state."

Sometimes, for people who move a lot, there is no "home state" in which case there are other rules, but the home-state-rule covers most cases.

Another rule is that once a court in the "home state" issues a custody order, as long as one of the parents continues to live in that state, only that state has the power to change its order. The "home state" is re-labeled the "decree state." No other state may change the court orders of the "decree state."

The UCCJA has brought structure to what was chaos. Parents used to kidnap their children from state to state. Courts in one state used to issue custody orders that contradicted the orders of courts in another state, which would force the dispute into the federal courts. It was a mess. Now when two states become involved in the custody dispute of one family, the judges from both states are authorized to telephone one another to determine which state is the "home state" if it's a new case. If it's an old case in which one parent wants to change custody, the two judges will determine if either parent still lives in the "decree state."

This cooperative approach has been so successful that many countries have followed suit. There is an international law called "The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction," and 44 countries obey it. It became effective in the United States on July 1, 1988.

States and countries working cooperatively have benefited many children whose parents are not able to work cooperatively.




For more Anne Kass articles, go here to select from complete list of 97 articles

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