Decisions regarding children and custody are among the most difficult to make when parents divorce or end a nonmarital relationship. They can also be highly contentious, as both parents want to protect their relationship with their child.
If a California custody dispute involves one parent leaving the state or even the country with a child, the complexity of the case is magnified. A small percentage of California family law attorneys truly understand the laws as they apply to interstate and international custody disputes.
Three Important Points To Understand
There are three critical points that a parent who is involved in an interstate or international custody dispute needs to be aware of:
These cases are time-sensitive. If a parent leaves the state or the country with a minor child, it is important for the other parent to act immediately by enlisting the services of a qualified family law attorney. The longer a parent keeps a child in another state or country – even without legal permission – the more difficult it may become to have the child returned to California. After some time has lapsed, the parent who moved away with the child may claim that the child’s life is firmly established in his or her new location and forcing the child to return to California would be too disruptive and emotionally difficult.
These cases are highly technical. It is imperative that a parent who faces an interstate or international custody dispute retain the services of a lawyer who has extensive experience with these complex cases. State, federal and international laws that govern custody disputes include the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of Child Abduction and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The stakes are too high to work with a lawyer who needs to bone up on what these laws state.
Do not second guess whether you should take action. This relates to the first point about acting immediately. Too often, a parent who is in the midst of a custody dispute in which a child has been moved out of state or out of the country attempts to resolve the situation amicably with the child’s other parent. Before you know it, the situation has dragged out for several months, and now it is more difficult to bring the child back to California.
Determining Which State Has Jurisdiction
When a custody dispute involves parents who live in different states, it is necessary to determine which state has jurisdiction. If a California court has already issued a custody order, California retains exclusive jurisdiction over subsequent custody matters as long as one parent still lives in the state.
The UCCJEA stipulates that California retains the power to make custody orders if it was the child’s home state when the custody proceeding began or if it was the child’s home state within six months prior to the proceeding beginning and a parent or a person acting as a parent continues to live in California.
If that sounds complex, it’s because it is. That is why it is essential to work with a knowledgeable family law attorney who has experience in interstate and international custody disputes.