Figuring out whether Texas or a different state has jurisdiction over your custody case can be complicated. This article discusses the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a Texas law that is very similar to the laws of most other U.S. states.
What law gives Texas courts power to make custody and visitation orders?
If you want to file a child custody case in Texas, you need to make sure that Texas has jurisdiction (the right to hear and decide a case) over your legal matter. Determining whether Texas has jurisdiction over your custody case can be especially complicated if the child has lived in multiple states. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) can help you make this determination.
What is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) applies in child custody cases involving more than one state. Each state in the U.S. has its own laws about how to make decisions in child custody cases, and this can be confusing to parents who live in different states and to parents whose child has lived in more than one state. The UCCJEA solves this problem by providing rules you can use to determine which state has jurisdiction in your child custody case. The UCCJEA only applies to child custody proceedings, which are cases where legal custody, physical custody, or visitation are at issue. See Texas Family Code 152.102(4).
The UCCJEA has two key sections—subchapter C and subchapter D. Subchapter C, which covers jurisdiction, determines which state has jurisdiction to make orders in child custody cases. Subchapter D, which covers enforcement, determines how out-of-state child custody determinations can be enforced.
Texas must have jurisdiction before it can make orders in your custody case. The UCCJEA is used by every state in the United States, including the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, except Massachusetts. The UCCJEA is found in Texas Family Code 152.
When do I need to use the UCCJEA?
You will need to use the UCCJEA to determine if Texas has jurisdiction in your custody case if a parent, a person acting as a parent, or the child currently lives in a state other than Texas. If you file your case in a court that does not have jurisdiction, you may end up wasting all of the time and money you spend on your case, because jurisdiction issues can be raised at any time, even on appeal. Therefore, before filing your case it’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your specific situation. If you are unsure whether the UCCJEA will apply in your case, you can:
Does the UCCJEA cover all jurisdiction issues affecting children?
No. The UCCJEA only applies to an issue if it falls under the definition of a “child custody determination.” A “child custody determination” means a judgment, decree, or other order of a court that provides for legal custody, physical custody, or visitation. It includes permanent, temporary, initial, and modification orders. See Texas Family Code 152.102(3).
"Legal custody" means managing conservatorship of a child. "Physical custody" means physical care and supervision of a child. And "visitation" means possession of or access to a child.
Issues not covered by the UCCJEA include:
- Authorization for emergency medical care for a child;
- A parent’s travel expenses for visiting a child; and
- Child support.
Jurisdiction issues affecting child support are addressed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). To read the law on UIFSA, see Texas Family Code 159.
How does the UCCJEA determine whether Texas has jurisdiction in my original child custody case?
A Texas court has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination if:
- Texas is the home state of the child. Texas is a child’s home state if the child lived there with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the custody case was filed. If the child is under six months old, Texas is the home state if the child has lived in Texas since birth with a parent or person acting as a parent; or
- The child no longer lives in Texas, but Texas was the child’s home state within six months immediately before the custody case was filed, and a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in Texas.
If neither of the above applies in your case, Texas may still have jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination—if no other state has jurisdiction under either criterion. But this determination is complicated and extremely fact-specific, so it is best to consult with an attorney to make a determination before filing.
Am I required to provide anything to the court in order to show that the UCCJEA applies in my case?
Yes. It is your responsibility to let the court know if the UCCJEA applies in your case. To do so, you must provide the court with the following information in your petition or an attached affidavit or declaration:
- The child’s present address;
- The places where the child has lived during the last five years; and
- The names and present addresses of the persons with whom the child has lived during that period.
I already have a custody order from another state. Can a Texas court modify my court order?
Maybe. In order for a Texas court to have jurisdiction to modify a child custody determination from another state, that Texas court must have jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. See above for an explanation of Texas’s jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination.
I already have a custody order from another state. Can a Texas court enforce my court order?
Yes. A Texas court must recognize and enforce a child custody order from another state in conformity with the UCCJEA. In enforcing an out-of-state court order, a Texas court may use any remedy available under Texas law.
Can I register my out-of-state court order in Texas?
Yes. Registering your out-of-state order can be helpful if you want Texas to enforce your out-of-state order, but it is not required. In order to register your out-of-state custody order, send the following documents to the appropriate Texas district court:
- A letter or other document requesting registration;
- Two copies, including one certified copy, of the out-of-state order that you want to register.
- A statement under penalty of perjury that, to the best of your knowledge and belief, the order has not been modified; and
- Your name and address as well as the name and address of any other person listed as a party to the out-of-state order you are seeking to register.
Texas does not have jurisdiction under the UCCJEA to make an initial custody determination in my case, but my child is in danger. Can Texas do anything?
Yes, under certain circumstances. Under the UCCJEA, a Texas court can exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction, regardless of which state has jurisdiction to hear the custody case, in the following extraordinary circumstances:
The child is present in Texas and has been abandoned; or
It is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse. The Texas Family Code does not define "mistreatment" or "abuse." But you can find some examples of it under Texas Family Code 261.001.
Texas retains temporary emergency jurisdiction until you can begin a child custody case in the proper state. See Texas Family Code 152.204(a).
A different Texas law conflicts with the UCCJEA. What do I do?
If a provision of the UCCJEA as stated in chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code conflicts with another part of the Texas Family Code or any other statute or rule in Texas, you should follow the UCCJEA. See Texas Family Code 152.002.
Child Custody & Visitation
Child Custody & Visitation
This article discusses registering other states' custody and support orders in Texas so that Texas courts can change and enforce them.
This article discusses interstate child support issues.
This answers frequently asked questions a parent’s ability to travel with their child during visitation periods.