Interstate Child Custody Issues: The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
This article explores interstate child custody issues.
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.
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 except Massachusetts. The UCCJEA is found in Texas Family Code 152.
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:
- Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.
- Check our Legal Clinic Calendar to learn if there is an upcoming free legal clinic near you.
- Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.
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. See Texas Family Code 152.102(3).
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.
For example, 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.
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.
If this applies to you, use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.
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.
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. The child subject to the out-of-state order must have been living in Texas for the past six months for a Texas court to make orders about the children. A Texas court can also make an emergency order under the UCCJEA if the child has not been in the state for at least six months.
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. Out-of-state orders that are registered in Texas are enforceable in Texas as of the date of the registration. This means that a Texas court can enforce the out-of-state order as if a Texas court issued the order.
Yes. Registering your out-of-state order can be helpful if you want Texas to enforce your out-of-state order. 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.
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.
Texas retains temporary emergency jurisdiction until you can begin a child custody case in the proper state. See Texas Family Code 152.204(a).
Even if Texas does not have jurisdiction of your case because another state does (the child has been in another state for the past six months), Texas can still exercise emergency jurisdiction on a temporary basis and render a temporary order. In family law, many courts, judges, and law practitioners call these “band-aid” orders because they are a quick fix for a custody problem. The temporary order is only good until the court with the proper jurisdiction can hear the issues and make new orders.
Keep in mind that the reverse of this situation also applies. This means that even if Texas is the proper state for jurisdiction of your custody case, but your children are in another state, that other state might be able to exercise emergency jurisdiction over your children through the UCCJEA. But ultimately, the case would be moved and handled here in Texas.
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.