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Who Hears Custody Cases When Parents Live in Different States?

After a divorce, it is fairly common for one parent to take up residence in a new state. Sometimes, they move to be nearer to family or to take a new job. In other cases, they may just be looking for a fresh start after enduring a particularly difficult period in their lives.

Whatever the cause, moving to another state can make child custody cases a bit more complicated. When both parents live in different states, it may not be clear where an action for child custody modification should be brought.

Like most states, Arkansas follows the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. That law sets out a decision-making framework that determines which state should hear a child custody action. It breaks the process down into three steps:

  • The first preference is for the case to be brought in the child's home state. In most cases, a state will qualify as the child's "home" if the child has lived there with a parent for at least six months.
  • There may also be jurisdiction if the child has "significant connections" with people in the state, such as family, friends, school or activities.
  • Finally, a state can hear a custody case if the child is in the state for "safety reasons." Usually, this occurs after a child was removed from his or her home state because of abuse or neglect.

If a state cannot meet any one of these criteria, then the state generally does not have authority to make a ruling on child custody issues. This is true even if the child is physically located in that state.

Source: FindLaw, "Interstate Custody Arrangements."

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