Real Virginia police recently arrested a man for wearing police attire1 to get the drop on his victim. This earned the fake cop two real two charges: malicious wounding with a caustic substance (he pepper sprayed him) and impersonating a law officer. While the fake cop broke the Virginia law against wearing a fake uniform, but he did not break a Uniform Law2. It’s confusing, but follow along. The Uniform Law Commissioners (ULC), a non-profit group of lawyers, judges, legislators and legislative staff members, draft laws across the United States to make them uniform, meaning the same everywhere. One such Uniform Law is the UCCJEA.
Outdated: UCCJA & PKPA
One great achievement of the ULC is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), created in 1997. It builds on earlier, partial successes in countering the terrible practice of moving children around the country to avoid custody and visitation issues.
The two previous efforts were the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) — which, again, had nothing to do with uniforms — and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA). Non-custodial parents had been skittering away across state lines with their children, hoping one state would overrule another state’s custody agreement.
The 1981 PKPA had two distinctions at odds with the UCCJA. The PKPA gives priority to the child’s “home state” in determining jurisdiction over the custody case (the UCCJEA did not). The PKPA also allowed a state, once it acted to preside over child custody jurisdiction, to keep jurisdiction until everyone — divorced Mom, divorced Dad, and all the kids — moved out of that state.
Neither the UCCJA or PKPA dealt with interstate enforcement of child custody orders, so no one was really sure who was responsible for making non-custodial Mom bring the kidnapped children back to custodial Dad.
The 1997 UCCJEA cleared up these and other issues. It replaces the UCCJA, which has been outdated by our mobile society, and it meshes with the PKPA. The UCCJEA provides for interstate civil enforcement of child custody orders handed down by courts.
Out and About: Relocation and Jurisdiction
Divorced parents are actually free to move around the country; some jobs would be economically impossible without the freedom to relocate for work. This mobility gets messy when children, custody, and visitation are involved if a court-approved visitation plan (that acknowledges the interstate relationship) is not in place.
Say your ex-wife, Billy Jo, is the non-custodial parent for your two kids, Brenda and Eddie. Your Virginia divorce was settled and decreed in a Virginia court, so Virginia has jurisdiction. Before the UCCJEA, if Billy Jo moved to New York and took Brenda and Eddie with her, you would have had to fight in New York courts to get them back. The UCCJEA makes clear Virginia’s jurisdiction, so Billy Jo has no legally justifiable reason to take the kids from you.
Outranked: Exclusive Jurisdiction
The UCCJEA and PKPA agree with each other. In our previous case, Billy Jo cannot compel New York State to outrank Virginia, since the divorce and its custody decree came first. More important, Brenda and Eddie are Virginians, only transplanting to New York because Billy Jo took them there. This gives Virginia jurisdiction, which New York State must recognize. It hardly benefits Billy Jo to flee with the kids to Long Island; Virginia will get New York to enforce custody and return your children to you.
This exclusive jurisdiction is not a one-off, either; the state with first priority retains it so long as someone in the mix is still in that state. Stay in Virginia and Virginia will go to bat for you to get your kids back. This is crucial: if you, too, move to New York in a misguided attempt to get your children back into your care, you have ceded the last connection to Virginia; New York can take jurisdiction.
Outflanked: Emergency Jurisdiction
In rare cases where no state can make a legitimate claim to jurisdiction, the UCCJEA provides for emergency jurisdiction. In our previous example, if Billy Jo petitions a New York court and says you, in your lucrative position as a carnival barker for the Duck Pond concession, are wandering the country with no legal residence, she can win temporary emergency jurisdiction and custody of the children.
She would have to prove the children were in danger of abandonment, mistreatment or abuse in your hands. She would also have to prove to the New York court’s satisfaction that she did not just make up a story about you working for a carnival when you are, in fact, living and working in Virginia. The power of the UCCJEA is to make such transparent ploys rare and unwinnable.
Outgunned: Contact The Firm For Men
Most attorneys would have advised Billy Jo not to take Brenda and Eddie to New York, since Virginia has priority jurisdiction. Still, you are faced with the dilemma of getting them back. Once your attorney notifies Virginia of your ex-wife’s rash act, the state of Virginia will exert its exclusive jurisdiction and request that New York State enforce the custody order.
Billy Jo will be informed by New York State to present herself and your two children — probably the day after the state gets Virginia’s petition — in court for an immediate enforcement hearing. The court could even take physical custody of Brenda and Eddie. If Billy Jo still refuses to comply, New York can dispatch law officers to locate your children based on whatever contact information you have, take custody of the children, and return them to you.
For help with questions concerning custody, vexations over visitations, or uncertainty over the UCCJEA, please call The Firm for Men‘s father’s rights attorneys at 757-383-9184.