The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term


What is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a Uniform Act in family law, like its predecessor, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act.  It was developed to address significant areas of confusion within the previous Act (UCCJA).

Why was the UCCJEA created?

The UCCJEA was designed to more consistently adhere with the Parental Kidnapping and Prevention Act (PKPA).  The intent was to close loopholes that caused inconsistencies as to which state had jurisdiction over certain child custody cases.

To better understand the UCCJEA it is necessary to understand the UCCJA.  As mentioned above, the UCCJEA is an attempt to correct the UCCJA by establishing clearer, uniform guidelines to help enforce interstate child custody jurisdiction guidelines.  The UCCJEA does not determine which parent has custody or how visitation is to be divided.  It is only used to determine which state has jurisdiction regarding a child custody dispute. 

Why is the UCCJEW necessary for child custody issues?

Every year in America, more than 1,000,000 children are impacted by the separation and divorce of their parents.  Following the transition to no-fault divorce laws, it is estimated that half of all children in the United States are likely to face a their parents divorcing prior to their 18th birthday.

Along with the significant rate of divorce, the United States is an extremely mobile country — people move and relocate, often.  It is a common occurrence for divorce or separated parents to relocate or attempt to relocate with their children, and parental relocation is one the main reasons that custody battles are reignited after the divorce decree is signed.

The United States is a logistical nightmare when it comes to family law and child custody.  With 50 states having their own interpretations about how child custody disputes should be settled, significant problems arise when two or more jurisdictions are involved.

Prior to the UCCJA, courts could make custody decisions based on a child's presence in a given state even if they only lived in that state for a brief period of time.  This created an environment that essentially rewarded or incentivized child abductions. Parents with physical custody would frequently forum shop, and seek custody decisions by moving to the jurisdiction that would likely provide the most favorable decision.

These "snatch-and-grab" tactics however created a tremendous strain on children, the other parents, and the judicial system. The lives of thousands of children were essentially uprooted and the relationship with their other parent significantly disrupted. The family court system was overloaded as multiple states frequently ruled over cases already decided in a different state, undermining previous state's decisions.

Where does the UCCJEA apply?

The UCCJEA was finalized in 1997 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) and has since been adopted by 49 states within the Unted States.  As of this writing, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico still have not adopted the new act and therefore adhere to the UCCJA.

How is jurisdiction for child custody determined with the UCCJEA?

The UCCJEA maintains that "exclusive and continuing jurisdiction" exists over child custody cases with family courts connected to the child's "home state".  Home state is therefore defined under the UCCJEA as the state where the child has resided with a parent for a period of six consecutive months before or up to the initial proceeding.  In the case of a child that is less than six months of age, "home state" is the state in which the child has resided since birth. In situations where a child has not lived consecutively in a state for at least six months (1) a court of a state where the child and at least one parent have had “significant connections” and (2) "substantial evidence concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships" may assume jurisdiction over the child custody case.

What can complicate child custody cases even with the UCCJEA?

Child custody cases can become very complex for many reasons.  One issue that can complicate child custody cases involving more than one state, is when each state has "significant connection" and "substantial evidence".  In this situation communication must occur between the courts of each state to decide which state is considered to have more significant connections to the child or children. A court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction when it has ruled over a child-custody case making a determination that is consistent with the UCCJEA until either (1) the same court rules that not the parents, the child, or any individual assuming a parental role has a significant connection with the state where the original order was made and no longer has substantial evidence found in the state addressing the child's care, training, protection, and personal relationships, or (2) that court or a court in another state rules that the child's parents, the child, and any individual assuming a parent role does not live in the state which first created the child custody order.

How is an initial child custody determination established according to the UCCJEA?

The UCCJEA determines which state has proper jurisdiction to make an "initial determination" of child custody by proceeding in the following order of priority:


  1. The state which has been established as a child's "home state", or was so within a six month period prior to the child custody proceedings being initiated, if the child did not reside in such state, but rather a parent or an individual assuming the parent role remains in such state;
  2. When there is no state that has assumed jurisdiction under rule #1, jurisdiction is then deemed proper where the child and at least one of the parents have established a significant connection with the state (other than mere presence), and substantial evidence related to the custody determination is present in the State;
  3. When there is no state that has assumed jurisdiction under rule #1 and rule #2 described above, any state that has a connection with the child is deemed to have proper jurisdiction;

When a state has jurisdiction by meeting criteria under both rule #1 and rule #2 such state may decide to waive its jurisdiction and transfer it to another state if it is more convenient for the parties, or when one of the parties has been found to have behaved in such a way (misconduct) to warrant a change.

How is exclusive, continuing jurisdiction defined?

When a custody determination has been made by a state court, that state maintains jurisdiction over all issues involving that child until:


  1. A court of such state having jurisdiction rules that the child or both the child and a parent have not demonstrated significant connection with the state, and evidence addressing the child's custody case is not found in the state; or
  2. A court of such state having jurisdiction, or any other state, rules that the child and both parents or individuals assuming a parenting role no longer live in such state.

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