Unmarried Parents With a Multi-State Custody Dispute - What Could Go Wrong?

Chapter 2 - Where to File a Multi-State Custody Case?

OK, tell me how we decide where to file my case,” said my nephew Adam[1].   

[Previously, Adam’s baby mama, Jennifer, left their home in Raleigh, NC taking the baby with her to Greenville, SC.  See Chapter 1 for details]

“We have to look at the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA for short.  Almost every state has adopted the UCCJEA.  It spells out which state can make an initial custody determination, and which state can modify an existing custody order.  In the South Carolina Code of Laws, the UCCJEA begins at section 63-15-300. 

So first of all – we have to decide which category we’re in.  Is this a new custody case, or is there already a custody order?”

“There’s no custody order!  Jennifer, Carter and I all lived together until six weeks ago.”

“Easy, nephew.  I have to ask.  For all I know, this might not be y’all’s first separation.  It’s not the kind of thing you put in the Christmas newsletter, is it?”

“I guess not.  But what difference would that make anyway?”

“In general, a state with an existing order retains exclusive jurisdiction to modify that order.”

“You mean, if North Carolina had already decided which of us had custody of Carter, then we’d have to file in North Carolina, even if Jennifer and Carter weren’t there anymore?”

“Yes, because you still live there.  As long as at least one parent continues to live in the state that issued the first custody order, the issuing state continues to have the sole authority, or jurisdiction, to make changes to the custody order.  It says so in S.C. Code sections 63-15-332 and -334.

That’s one reason the UCCJEA was enacted – to prevent a parent who doesn’t like a custody order from running with a child to a different state in hopes of getting a better result.   

The UCCJEA also keeps a parent who wants a first-time custody order from snatching a child and running off to parts unknown, by requiring that all first-time custody cases be filed in the ‘home state’ of the child.” 

“Well, Carter’s home state is North Carolina, right?  He was born there, and that’s where he lived until seven weeks ago.”

“The UCCJEA defines the ‘home state’ of a child as the state where the child has lived with either parent for the most recent six months - ”

“Carter won’t be six months old until the first week in March.”

“Or -as I was saying - in the case of a child less than six months old, it’s the state where the child lived from birth with either parent.” [S.C. Code §63-15-302]

“Still North Carolina, right?”

“I expect you and Jennifer probably have different ideas on that subject.  The UCCJEA goes on to state that ‘a period of temporary absence . . . is part of the [six month] period.’”

 “Well, I thought their absence was temporary.  Jennifer says it’s permanent.  Is there a definition of ‘temporary absence’ in the UCCJEA?”

“Sadly, no.”

“Then how do we know what it means?”

“That’s a good question, with a longer answer than I have time for right now.  Call me back and we’ll talk about it.”

To be continued -


[1] I don’t have a nephew Adam or a great-nephew Carter, and Jennifer is also imaginary.  Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental and unintended.

Sally Peace