The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) clarified an uniform approach to dealing with child custody matters nationwide. Since its inception in 1997, 49 states as well as the District of Columbia have adopted the Act. One of the goals achieved through the UCCJEA is clear guidance on who should exercise jurisdiction over a custody matter. The preferred method for establishing jurisdiction is based on the home state of the child. The homes state is defined as the state where the child had been living for at least six (6) months prior to the custody action or since birth if the child is less than six months old. If jurisdiction is not clear based on an analysis of the home state, the courts should then look to see where there are significant connections and substantial evidence relevant to the custody action. Significant connections is more than just mere presence in any state.
Once a court obtains jurisdiction under one of guidelines above, that court continues to have exclusive jurisdiction until it is established that another court has become more suitable for jurisdiction. Accordingly, any modifications of custody must go through the court that made the initial or prior determination. There is an exception to the rules on jurisdiction in the event of an emergency. If a child is in danger and there is a need for immediate action, the jurisdiction where the child is located at that time can enter a temporary emergency order. The UCCJEA also provides a procedure for registration and enforcement of custody orders across state lines.