Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA)

Enacted on December 28, 1980, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) is a federal law establishing national standards regarding child custody jurisdiction.

Giving preference to the home state where a child resided in the previous six months, the Act prevents a parent from “forum shopping” in different states to obtain a favorable court ruling. (According to Wikipedia, forum shopping “is a colloquial term for the practice of litigants having their legal case heard in the court thought most likely to provide a favorable judgment.)

The PKPA is a full faith and credit law. That means, that each state has to respect the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” In other words, if a child custody order exists in one state, all other states must respect that order. However, the PKPA does not determine whether courts should order new custody orders. Determining new custody orders between different states is determined federally through the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Courts must follow the PKPA when deciding whether to enforce another court’s previous custody order or one is pending in another state, or the court is asked to modify an existing court order from another state.

The PKPA includes four ways to for courts to exercise jurisdiction: home state, significant connection, emergency, and more appropriate forum.

Home state: This is the place where the child has lived with a parent (or person acting as parent) for at least six months for the new custody request; or in the state where the child lived before the custody request began.

Significant connection: If there is no home state, then the parent requesting the order must have a significant connection with that state, and have substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, training, protection, and personal relationships.

Emergency: Jurisdiction may be exercised if the child is in the state and he/she has been abandoned, or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, a sibling, or parent of the child has been subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.

More appropriate forum: A court may obtain jurisdiction under the PKPA when no other state has home state jurisdiction, significant connection, continuing or emergency jurisdiction.

By the way, requesting judicial help under the PKPA must be brought in state court. The United States Supreme Court, in Thompson vs. Thompson [484 U.S. 174 (1988)], held that the PKPA does not create a cause of action in federal court.