We live in a very mobile society, and divorced parents don’t always end up in the same state. That can create some confusion — particularly in cases where there is shared custody or liberal visitation — about which state actually controls decisions regarding the children. That question can become particularly important if parents later disagree about the parenting plan or custody.

All 50 states and Washington D.C. have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act as the standard they use to determine both custody and jurisdiction over custody matters. A state is in charge of custody decisions (including relocation requests) whenever any of the following is true:

  1. It is the child’s home state, meaning that the child has lived within the state for a minimum of six months. (This does not include situations where a child was removed from one state by a parent and kept in another contrary to a parenting plan or custody agreement.)
  2. The child has established “significant” connections within that state with caregivers, educators, relatives, doctors and others.
  3. The child is in danger of being abused or neglected if returned to another state.
  4. The child has been abandoned in the state that he or she is currently living in.
  5. No other state can meet any of the above criteria or other states that do meet the criteria have declined to take jurisdiction.

In general, the states work hard to avoid “stepping on toes” when they make custody decisions. Once a state has assumed jurisdiction of a case, another state cannot usually modify the order or make another decision.

If you’re hoping to relocate with your child to California or you want to move away from the state with your children after a divorce, you need to have an in-depth conversation with an experienced advocate before you start.