Interstate Child Custody Laws and Jurisdiction

Family Law

How Does Interstate Child Custody Work in Arkansas?

The legal issues with child custody in Arkansas are usually pretty simple: Who’s the better parent? (As set forth in the magical “best interest of the child” standard.) No need to be a lawyer to understand that. Things can get a little tricky, however, when the child custody issues involve more than one state. This actually happens a lot. And because a lot of child custody battles do end up across state lines, there are two important laws in Arkansas that govern which court should hear the child custody matter: The UCCJEA and the PKPA.

The UCCJEA (it stands for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act) is what’s called a “uniform” law. So, in this case, a bunch of people who are smart about child-custody-jurisdiction-stuff all get together and recommend to different states what they should adopt as their own laws. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of the UCCJEA, though, it has worked beautifully: Every state (including Arkansas, of course) except for Massachusetts has adopted the UCCJEA, and it is in the process.

uccjea-interstate-jurisdiction

The main thing to know about the UCCJEA is that it puts the most weight on where a child’s “home state” is when making an initial decision about jurisdiction (The home state is basically where the child has lived with a parent or guardian for the six months before a lawsuit is filed.) The second most important thing to know about the UCCJEA is that once a state gets jurisdiction, it tends to keep it. The third most important thing to know about the UCCJEA is that its purpose is to reduce confusion and make sure that at least state has jurisdiction over a custody matter at all times. That is the “big picture” with the UCCJEA.

Once a court exercises jurisdiction, it may lose it under a couple of different circumstances. (We’ll use Arkansas as an example here.) For instance, if no one (neither the child nor either parent) lives in Arkansas, then Arkansas would lose jurisdiction of the case. That’s a pretty easy example. The harder case is when the custodial parent and the child live in another state but the non-custodial parent continues to live in Arkansas. In that case, you’ve got to prove that the child no longer has a substantial connection to Arkansas and there’s no longer evidence about him or her in Arkansas. That tends to be pretty hard to prove, and most courts don’t like to give up jurisdiction if they don’t have to.

There are two important takeaways from all this if you anticipate being involved in an interstate child custody situation:

  1. There is a significant strategic advantage to acting first, so you need someone looking at your situation immediately. And when I say immediately, I mean now.
  2. You need to find someone who understands the UCCJEA. Unfortunately, many family lawyers do not and won’t be thinking how they can use it to your strategic advantage.

Most child custody disputes never really resolve; if you’ve got a four-year old and an unpleasant ex-spouse, you should expect another fourteen years of lawyer fees, court costs, and frustration. Arkansas tends to be a fairly cheap and efficient place to fight these battles. The difference between Arkansas having jurisdiction and another state having jurisdiction might mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the situation.

That is, if you can keep your case in Arkansas, you’re probably better off. We can help with that—call us.

About the Author
Charlie Cunningham

Charlie C. Cunningham

Lawyer

Born, raised, and educated entirely in Arkansas, Charlie is passionate about helping Arkansas families through the court system. As a DHS attorney throughout the State, Charlie has helped hundreds of children, parents, and adults achieve positive outcomes through appropriate DHS agencies and services. Charlie understands the seriousness of any legal proceeding that involves someone’s child or loved one, and his…

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