What is the UCCJEA?
The UCCJEA stands for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. Think of the UCCJEA as a “treaty” between states that determines how states determine which court gets to decide custody of a child.
The UCCJEA and Hague Convention in operation under Washington law.
Many years ago, our firm began handling UCCJEA cases in Washington State and in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties. One case stands out in particular. We represented a Canadian woman who had met and dated an American here in Seattle, WA. The American dad was a blue-collar individual with a bit of an unscrupulous background having some criminal history and some allegations of domestic violence.
Our client had ended their relationship years before returning home and going back to Canada. She returned to Canada where the child had resided her entire life. After she returned to Canada, the father sought to exercise visitation. Being like most everyone out there, she trusted him. She trusted that he would visit with his daughter and return her daughter to her. This turned out to be a mistake as the father had other plans.
I remembered this particular case due the gull of both the opposing attorney and his client. This dad misled the court into thinking it had a basis for jurisdiction over our client’s daughter even though there were no court orders regarding visitation. In short, the father and his attorney used the court system.
Once dad got the child here, he filed a domestic violence protect order against our client and asked the court to award custody to him. The mother called us crying for help thinking that she needed a lawyer to help her fight for custody. As we listened to her story we realized she didn’t need someone to fight for custody, she needed someone to ensure that Washington couldn’t exercise jurisdiction. Under the UCCJEA and the Hague Convention, Washington did not have the power to even hear about custody because the court did not have jurisdiction over the child.
At the court hearing, we successfully argued that Washington didn’t have jurisdiction under both the UCCJEA and Hague Convention. We further told the Court that because Washington did not have jurisdiction, we explained to the court that our client had to have her daughter returned to her. The court agreed.
After the hearing, we had a very happy client. The Washington case was dismissed. Our client was awarded custody of her child. As a bonus, we even got her an award of attorneys fees against the father.