Where Is Child Custody Determined When Parents Live In Different States

I moved to Pennsylvania from another state after my spouse and I separated…. Which state will decide my custody matter?

The UCCJEA Determines In Which State Your Child Custody Matter Will Be Decided When Parents Live in Different States

The answer to this question really turns on one key definition in the group of laws which relate to custody jurisdiction across states, known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.  That key definition is “home state”.

The “home state” of a child is the state which has the power to decide the custody matter, provided at least one parent still lives in that state.  A child’s “home state” is the state where he or she lived for at least six consecutive months before the custody action began. A child can only have one “home state”.

Essentially, it works like this:  On July 1, 2019, I moved from State X to Pennsylvania with my children.  My children were born in State X and lived there continuously until the move to Pennsylvania.  My former spouse filed for custody in State X on December 30, 2019. Can he/she do that?

Under the UCCJEA, Child Custody Is Usually Determine by the Child’s “Home State.”

The short answer is yes.  State X has the right to decide custody until a new state becomes the “home state” of a child. A child cannot acquire a new “home state” until he/she has lived in that new state for at least six months.  In the scenario above, the spouse filed in State X just a few days before Pennsylvania would have automatically become the new “home state”.

You may say, but my spouse knew that I was moving to Pennsylvania because of our separation, and he/she agreed that I could… Do I have to go back to State X for custody hearings?

The answer is maybe not.  Even though State X is the “home state” of the child, you could object to State X making the decision if you can prove to the court that State X is an “inconvenient forum” to make the decision, compared to the intended new residence of Pennsylvania.  Whether State X will or will not agree will be decided by the laws of State X, so you would need to first consult with a lawyer in State X to file any objection to State X making that decision, and you would need State X’s permission to move the case to Pennsylvania.

Under the UCCJEA, if Both Parents Move to New States, the Former State No Longer Has Jurisdiction to Decide Child Custody

But what if we both moved to Pennsylvania, and then we separated only two months later before Pennsylvania became the new home state? Do I have to file in our prior state, State X?

This answer is simpler:  You do not have to file in State X.  Pennsylvania would have the power to decide the case.  Under this scenario, the child’s “home state” is still State X. However, unlike the above scenario, no parent remains in State X, and proper jurisdiction requires one parent to be present in the state.  Therefore, State X cannot exercise jurisdiction to hear the case because no parent is present in State X, the child’s “home state”.  In this scenario, because both parents and children are in Pennsylvania, there is no other state that could exercise jurisdiction, which allows Pennsylvania to do so.

Clearly jurisdiction, the power to decide a case, can be very complex and the attorneys at Cooley & Handy have a wealth of experience navigating these issues, and can help guide you through them.

By: Susan M. Gibson, Esq.


The Effect of COVID-19 on Child Custody in Pennsylvania

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our daily lives. For many of us, our regular routines have been drastically altered and we must find ways to adapt. However, if you are divorced or separated and sharing child custody with another parent, COVID-19 has possibly made your situation even more complex. You may be wondering how the current climate affects your custody order and how the courts will address disputes should an issue arise during this time.

What Should You Do If Your Children Are Subject to a Child Custody Order During the COVID-19 Crisis?

First of all, you should continue to regularly follow all custody orders presently in place and continue to transfer custody. Do so even if your area has issued a “stay at home” order. Maintaining consistency for your children is key. If your exchange location is not at home, arrange to meet at an open-air public place, like a parking lot. Try to coordinate social distancing procedures and health practices with the other parent. Implement procedures that can be followed at time of transfers and during stays in both homes. Keep the other parent informed and keep the lines of communication open.

It’s also important during this time to be understanding that issues may arise that warrant a deviation from the current order. Many parents are being forced to adapt to a work from home environment, while others may be deemed an “essential employee,” still working at the office or working different hours than normal. Cooperate with the other parent to address any temporary changes that may be required to accommodate fluctuating job schedules or health concerns. Most importantly, always keep the best interests of your children in mind. If you have any health or safety concerns regarding the children, promptly address them with the other parent.

Are The Pennsylvania Courts Open for Child Custody Cases During the COVID-19 Shutdown?

The short answer is yes, at least for emergency custody matters.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has closed all courts to the public for non-essential functions through April 3, 2020. In response to this order, the county courts in our area have done a great job developing procedures to handle family law issues amidst COVID-19 while ensuring that employees and citizens stay healthy and safe. For example, here in Bucks County, all non-emergent trials and hearings have been continued through April 14, 2020. Attorneys and pro se litigants are directed to file all pleadings through the court’s online system. All custody related petitions can still be filed online. However, the judges have discretion on how to handle these filings. Judges can choose to set up telephone conferences to address a particular matter, or they can continue any non-emergent custody matters generally until the court is fully operational again.

Any custody issues deemed an emergency should be labeled as such on any court filings. Judges are available to promptly address any emergency custody petitions. Once the court does open as normal again, any continued matters will be rescheduled, with the most crucial matters being heard first.

For those parties presently involved in CCES (Court Conciliation and Evaluation Services) for custody matters, the court counselors are making every effort to conduct most interviews via video or telephone conference. However, interviews of children may be postponed so the counselors can observe in-person interactions between the children and parents. Additionally, the court is not holding its regular weekly Protection from Abuse (PFA) days until after April 15, 2020. The court will still hear temporary PFAs that are filed during this time period. Any PFAs set to expire before April 15, 2020 are automatically extended until at least April 15th. For more information on how the Pennsylvania courts are operating during this time visit https://bucksbar.org/covid-19-court-and-bar-association-updates/.

What is Cooley & Handy Doing in Response to the COVID-19 Shutdown?

We are open! While our physical office locations are closed, we are still fully operational. We are accepting calls and are scheduling consultations and client meetings virtually by video conference through Zoom or Skype. Our firm offers flexible hours that can accommodate any schedule. We can still file all pleadings online and can exchange documents requiring client signature via e-mail. Most importantly, we are here to help you navigate custody and all other family law matters through these uncertain times. Give us a call at 215-345-8000 or email us at info@cooleyhandy.com.

By Alison Carr, Esq.


How to Get Your Life Back After Divorce: Consider Hiring a Life Coach

Guest Blog By Julie Ketover, Divorce and Life Coach

Divorce is a major transition in your life. For some, the transition is welcome. For others, it’s thrust upon you. Either way, you are entering new territory and chances are you’re feeling confused and without a clear path forward.

That’s where a life coach can help. (more…)