After a judge hands down a divorce decree, often one of the ex-spouses is unhappy with the custody order. Maybe you received physical and legal custody of your children, and you are worried that your ex-spouse will try to find a way to get the order modified in order to take custody away from you. Can they move to a different state and have a court in their new state modify the order?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
49 out of the 50 states in the country (including Maryland) have adopted a statute called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA). This act essentially binds courts from every state to recognize and enforce judgments regarding child custody made by other courts in the country.
In other words, if you and your children still live in Maryland, and your ex-spouse tries to get a court in Kentucky to modify your custody order, the UCCJEA would prevent the Kentucky court from doing so. Instead, the Kentucky court would implement and enforce the terms of your custody order in Kentucky as if a Kentucky court had issued the order.
The issue of domicile
It is important to note that this restriction only applies when the state that court that issued the original order is located in is still the child’s home state – known in legal terms as the child’s domicile. If the child moves out of that state and establishes a new domicile, then a court in the new home state can obtain jurisdiction to modify the order.
The UCCJEA determines that a child’s domicile is the state where they lived permanently for six consecutive months prior to a court proceeding challenging custody is commenced. What this means for you is that, if your ex-spouse brings a custody challenge in Kentucky, as long as your children have lived with you in Maryland for at least six months, Kentucky cannot obtain jurisdiction – since your children’s domicile is legally Maryland.
Child custody disputes often come with a great deal of heartache and contention among ex-spouses. Knowing what you have to do in order for your state to maintain jurisdiction over your custody order can help you to avoid a potentially devastating custody dispute with your ex-spouse.