How Does Child Custody Work When the Parents Live in Different States?

Child custody cases involving parents who live in different states can be complex. They often involve issues related to case jurisdiction, custody laws and statutes, and coordination among multiple legal systems. The framework used to address most of these cases is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA.

The Courts Will Determine the Child’s “Home State”

A child’s “home state” is where the child custody case will be heard. A state’s court will not have jurisdiction over a case if it is not appointed as the child’s home state. If the case involves two parents living in different states and both attempting to declare their state as the child’s home state, the matter may need to be decided by a judge.

A judge will use the UCCJEA’s guidelines to determine which state’s courts have the jurisdiction to make or modify a child custody decision. Under the UCCJEA, a child’s home state is generally determined based on where the child lived in the six months prior to the commencement of the legal proceeding.

If the child lived with a parent or guardian in one state for at least six consecutive months before the custody case was filed, this will be confirmed as the state with jurisdiction over the case. If the child is less than six months old, the home state is where the child has lived since birth.

Types of Custody Arrangements Available

Once it is confirmed that a specific state will have jurisdiction over a child custody case, the parents can learn more about what to expect from the legal process based on the laws within that state. In California, for example, there are four main types of custody.

  • Legal custody: the right to make important decisions for the child, such as education, religion and health care.
  • Physical custody: the right to have a child physically under a parent’s roof, typically for overnight visits.
  • Joint custody: both parents share the responsibilities of raising their children, often with split legal and physical custody.
  • Sole custody: only one parent is given parental rights and responsibilities. The other parent may or may not be granted visitation rights.

A judge will carefully analyze the situation and look at all relevant factors to determine which custody arrangement protects the child’s best interests. Any combination of these custody arrangements is possible for parents living in different states.

Joint Custody Is Less Likely

The courts in California prefer joint custody when it is safe and reasonable. The law holds that a child fares best when kept in frequent contact with both parents after a divorce. However, this may not be possible if the parents live in different states. In this scenario, it may be unreasonable to expect one or both parents to fly back and forth with the child.

Instead, the courts will most likely award one parent sole or primary physical custody.

The other parent, known as the non-custodial parent, can retain visitation rights. In addition, both parents will likely share legal custody. If both parents lived in the same state when a child custody arrangement was granted but now one wishes to relocate, this requires a different legal process (a “move-away” case).

If you are dealing with any type of child custody matter involving multiple states, contact the San Diego child custody lawyers at Boyd Law for legal assistance. These cases can be complex.