Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act – “UCCJEA”
What is the UCCJEA?
The UCCJEA is an interstate child custody compact that is used by Washington State, as well as all other states. It is a body of law that is the same in every state. The reason that the law is the same in all states is so that where two states think they should have a say in deciding a child’s future, the statute provides fair grounds for determining which state will win the UCCJEA jurisdiction argument. This improves consistency of child custody in the U.S. should two parents decide that they can’t decide which state should be making decisions.
How does the UCCJEA in Washington operate?
The mechanics are the same. When someone wants to obtain legal custody of a child in Washington State, they must file a “petition” to get custody. Every petition contains a section which states why Washington Courts should have jurisdiction over the child. When completing the petition, you must tell the court exactly why you think the court has jurisdiction over your child. This tells the court how the UCCJEA applies to your child and how a Washington Superior Court has the power to hear your case.
What happens if Washington State doesn’t have jurisdiction and I mark that on the petition?
Washington State does not have jurisdiction. This means that Superior Court can not hear your case. You will have to go somewhere else.
What happens after I tell the Washington court that it has jurisdiction over my son or daughter?
Your case proceeds. You serve the petition on your soon to be ex-husband or former boyfriend (if you weren’t married). He usually has 20 days to respond to the petition. If he is out of state, he usually has 60 days to respond. In responding to the petition, if he thinks that Washington doesn’t have jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, he will dispute it in his answer.
What happens if my ex has filed a petition for custody in another state and I’ve already filed one here?
You have four options to proceed. You can decide to hire an attorney in the state where your ex lives and not dispute his or her choice of states, you can force the issue and hope that he or she decides its’ not worth the fight, you can come to an agreement, or you two can both fight it out.
How does the UCCJEA dispute process work?
It all begins with the definition of the “home state” of a child. Judges will often allow jurisdiction in child custody cases even in situations where the basis for jurisdiction under the UCCJEA is weak.
It is more common than you think it should be. Sometimes even if you want to fight it out, the judges may not. If there’s a dispute, each state has their own court hearing to decide if they want to have jurisdiction. Once the judges finish their own hearings and if both decide their own state should have jurisdiction the UCCJEA, the judges will usually have a judicial conference to decide who is right.
If you find yourself embroiled in a UCCJEA dispute, it’s time to hire an attorney if you haven’t already. UCCJEA disputes are technical legal disputes where you must speak to the court in archaic legalese, in other words you lawyer it up. These disputes are not to be taken lightly.
Not only can use lose the right to have custody determined by your chosen state, the other side can make you pay their fees in the process. If you need help with your UCCJEA dispute, contact our office at (206) 633-2015 to schedule a consultation.