In our last post, we began speaking about the important issue of interstate child custody litigation, and how Texas courts determine where these disputes are handled. The issue is an important one, given that different states have different approaches to child custody and custody disputes can turn out differently depending on where a couple’s case is handled. As we mentioned, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) provides the primary guidance for courts in these cases.
One point about which Texas case law is clear is that the intention of a parent to make a location the child’s home state is not the most important factor in determining which state in which a child custody matter is litigated. Obviously, it could be quite difficult for courts to make a determination of jurisdiction on that basis. Because of this, the most important factor is the state where the child actually, physically lived for the six months prior to the litigation was initiated.
While actually, physical presence may sound like a fairly straightforward determination to make, it isn’t always so. In fact, one of the most common issues in child custody jurisdiction appeals involves the question of where the child was actually living at the time divorce is filed. This issue often comes up in cases where the child is living with both parents part-time in different states. As one can imagine, this scenario would be more common along state borders.
With respect to modification of a child custody order, Texas’ version of the UCCJEA has it that Texas has sole jurisdiction over a case which was initially filed in Texas unless the child and a parent or guardian do not have a strong enough connection with Texas to support jurisdiction. Disputes on this point can also arise.
These, of course, are only a couple of the areas where litigation can happen with interstate child custody disputes. The long and short of it is that navigating interstate child custody disputes can be a complicated matter, both from a legal perspective and from an emotional perspective. Having the assistance of an experienced attorney is critical to ensuring that one has the guidance and advocacy necessary for effectively handling a custody dispute.