The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, gives the rules and procedures for enforcing out of state child custody orders in Texas, and also for enforcing Child Support orders from other states. This is uniform national rule that was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law and then is adopted by the states. All states have adopted the UCCJEA. As a companion Statute to the UCCJEA is Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, which can be found here.
UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION AND ENFORCEMENT ACT
Jurisdiction is the court’s ability to hear a dispute and issue an order or judgment that is enforceable and will govern the parties’ behavior with respect to the suit. There are four rules for taking jurisdiction over a child custody dispute by a court in Texas.
- One must determine where the child’s home state is located;
- There must be a significant connection between the state and the parties to a child custody dispute;
- Is emergency jurisdiction necessary because the child is present in Texas and the child’s welfare is threatened? Or,
- Presence of the child in Texas and there is no other state with sound basis for taking jurisdiction.
My firm tries UCCJEA cases routinely. I have tried these types of cases in all of the district courts of Harris and Fort Bend counties. Rule 1 mentioned above seems to be the most litigated. Families will leave Texas or come into Texas with or without children. This will cause jurisdiction to be lost or made based on moving of the child between states by a parent. A special affidavit is required when the case is filed which clearly lists the child’s residences and who has lived with the child for the 5 years prior to the case was filed.
CONTINUING EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, also provides for continuing exclusive jurisdiction. If a home state takes jurisdiction over a child custody dispute, such as rendering a final decree of divorce or a final child visitation order, it retains jurisdiction so long as that state, by its own determination, maintains a significant connection with the members of the family who have cared for the children or until none of the children nor the caregivers reside in that state. In contrast, the UCCJEA allows jurisdiction to shift if the initial ground for taking jurisdiction ceases to exist. As a result, if a new state takes jurisdiction over a child custody dispute because that state is the home state of the child, and the child subsequently establishes a new home state, jurisdiction can be established in the new home state.
TEMPORARY EMERGENCY JURISDICTION
Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, rules for taking emergency jurisdiction are same as the other rules for taking jurisdiction, including the “home state” rule. If the child is present in a state and there is an evidence of abandonment or abuse or mistreatment of the child, then that state can take jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.
The UCCJEA provides for temporary emergency jurisdiction, that can ripen into continuing jurisdiction only if no other state with grounds for continuing jurisdiction can be found or, if found, declines to take jurisdiction. The child’s presence and evidences of abandonment, mistreatment or abuse still could trigger the taking of emergency jurisdiction.
ENFORCEMENT OF CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION ORDERS
The UCCJEA also adds an enforcement provision. Interstate enforcement of custody and visitation decrees has historically been proved frustrating for parents and the courts. The UCCJEA requires a state to enforce a custody or visitation order from another state that conforms substantially to this act. An order from a state that has a continuing exclusive jurisdiction, therefore, will be enforced.
The procedure is to register the out-of-state order. If the registration is not contested, the registered order may be enforced by any means available to enforce a domestic order. This ordinarily means using the contempt powers of the court to assure that the custody or visitation order is honored by the parent who is subjected to it.
There is an expedited remedy that is available. Upon receiving a verified petition, the court orders the party with the child to submit to an immediate hearing (the next judicial day unless impossible) for enforcement. The court may rule with respect to enforcement at the hearing. This remedy operates much like habeas corpus, in which the body subject to the writ must be presented immediately to the court.
If there is a danger to the child or if it appears that the child will be removed from the enforcing jurisdiction, a petition may also be filed for a warrant to take physical custody of the child along with a petition for an expedited proceeding. If the warrant is issued, law enforcement officers will serve the warrant and obtain physical custody of the child.
JUDGMENTS FROM FOREIGN COUNTRIES
A judgment from a foreign country is treated like a judgment from another state for purposes of the statute. You would need to get the order or judgment translated into English, file it with the District Clerk for which the child is located, and then serve it out on the parties of interest. After about 30 days if there is no objection, then you can modify or enforce the order.