UCCJEA: When Child Custody Is the Issue

In 1892, a group of lawyers from all the states in the United States met in Chicago to draft laws that would bring uniformity and clarity to state laws and legislation. The group continues to meet to this day and is known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The organization is non-profit, and helps states design laws where uniformity (especially between states) is needed.

In 1997, the group met and drafted legislation of what is now known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

The act is designed to help state court systems throughout the country interact with each other in matters of child custody. The act determines the jurisdiction of a court to make orders regarding the custody of children. (Without jurisdiction, a court lacks the power to make and enforce any order.)

Prior to the UCCJEA, parents would take their children to different states to get what they hoped would be favored treatment regarding custody, visitation and child support matters. These actions would invoke courts in different jurisdictions (that is, different states) to battle each other for uniform and effective control. Now, with the UCCJEA, which state's court has jurisdiction is determined and that state's laws control the custody, visitation and support of the children.

Forty-nine states have adopted the UCCJEA as valid law. Massachusetts has not adopted the UCCJEA, but has similar legislation providing the same jurisdictional results.

Because jurisdiction must be determined before a court can decide any child custody matter, it is in the best interests of all parties to engage the assistance of qualified family law professionals to navigate the UCCJEA. Without knowledge of the UCCEA, a party needing legal help through the court system, may not get it.

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