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What Happens When Parents Living in Different States File Separate Child Custody Petitions?


Child custody disputes often involve complex legal questions. For example, what happens when the parents live in different states? What happens if each parent files a separate child custody petition in their respective state? Which state has jurisdiction to resolve a dispute?

Understanding the UCCJEA

Most states, including Florida, have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to deal with such scenarios. The UCCJEA basically says the “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” over a child custody dispute should remain with the “home state” of the child.

Now this begs the question: What qualifies as the child’s “home state”? Under Florida’s version of the UCCJEA, the home state is where the child has lived with a parent (or a “person acting as a parent”) for at least 6 consecutive months before the custody proceeding began. If the child is a newborn under 6 months of age, the home state refers to where the child “lived from birth” with a parent or guardian.

Note that the 6-month period can include a period of “temporary absence” from the state. So just because the child spent a week in another state visiting the other parent, that in and of itself would not deprive a Florida court of jurisdiction over the underlying child custody dispute.

That said, even when Florida is properly considered the child’s home state, there may be situations where it is deemed more convenient to allow a custody proceeding initially filed in another state to proceed.

A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeals, Awad v. Noufal, illustrates what we are talking about. This case involves two parents who initially lived together with their two children in Florida. In 2017, the wife took the children to Jordan without the father’s consent. When the mother and children returned to the United States several months later, they took up residence in Massachusetts. The mother then asked a Massachusetts court for an emergency order granting her temporary custody of the children.

Shortly thereafter, the father filed his own competing child custody petition in the Florida courts. The wife argued Florida lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, as Massachusetts was now the children’s “home state.” The trial court declined to dismiss the Florida petition, but said the children could still remain with the mother temporarily.

The Second District said the trial court did not quite follow the UCCJEA. In a situation like this, where another state’s courts are already involved, the Florida court was required to “communicate” with the Massachusetts court “to resolve the emergency, protect the safety of the parties and the child, and determine a period for the duration of the temporary order.” And even if the Florida court has proper jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, it may still decline to hear the case if the judge “determines that it is an inconvenient forum under the circumstances and that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum.”

Speak with a Boca Raton Child Custody Attorney Today

It is always best for parents to resolve their child custody issues without the need for litigation. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. If you need legal advice or assistance from an experienced Boca Raton child custody lawyer, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a consultation.




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