When a relationship ends, parents of a child or children may not remain in the same state. If, over time, a parent has moved to another state and a custody issue arises, the first “order of business” may be to determine which state will decide the custody issue.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

To ensure that the best situated court exercises jurisdiction in custody matters, Pennsylvania and 48 other states (except Massachusetts) have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The provisions of UCCJEA determine which state has child custody jurisdiction when parents live in different states. While the UCCJEA is applicable to interstate proceedings, the Pennsylvania Legislature pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5471 has determined that the provisions of the UCCJEA “allocating jurisdiction and functions between and among courts of different states shall also allocate jurisdiction and functions between and among the courts of common pleas of this Commonwealth.” More simply, the provisions of the UCCJEA apply intra-state when parents live in different counties across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Initial Custody Actions – Home State

To determine which state or county will hear your custody case, a court must determine the child’s “home state.” The home state is the state where the minor child lived for at least six consecutive months (or since birth if they are younger than six months old) preceding the custody action. The court of that state has jurisdiction to enter a custody order. It is important to note that a child can only have one home state. Moreover, jurisdiction is determined at the time the custody action is commenced, not when the trial occurs. If Pennsylvania is not the home state, then a custody action may still be filed in Pennsylvania under appropriate circumstances. For example, the six-month period does not apply if a child is in danger or if it is a case of domestic violence, then the court can invoke emergency jurisdiction.

Modifying A Custody Order – Exclusive, Continuing Jurisdiction

The UCCJEA also includes language governing situations where there has been a prior custody order. If a court in Pennsylvania originally entered the custody order, then any request to modify the custody order must be filed in Pennsylvania as the state retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. Since a child can only have one home state, Pennsylvania retains jurisdiction over the child custody litigation until it determines that another state is a more convenient court to exercise jurisdiction. The Pennsylvania Superior Court has provided two prongs which must both be met before Pennsylvania loses “exclusive, continuing jurisdiction.” The two prongs are the “significant connection prong” and “substantial evidence prong.” Essentially, as long as the child and one parent have an important or meaningful relationship to the commonwealth, then jurisdiction remains in Pennsylvania.

Moving Out of Pennsylvania With the Minor Children

In addition to the jurisdictional hurdles discussed above, if a parent is moving out of Pennsylvania, he or she must be mindful of Pennsylvania’s custody relocation statute. The statute requires the moving party to first obtain the other parent’s permission or court permission before relocating to another state. Relocation is defined as any move that would significantly impair the ability of the non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights. If the non-relocating party objects to the minor children leaving the commonwealth, then the matter will be scheduled for a contested hearing. At the hearing, the relocating party must be aware that in addition to addressing the 16 factors of 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5328, he or she must also address the 10 relocation factors of 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5337. The parent moving out of Pennsylvania has the burden to show that relocation with the minor children will serve their best interests and the motive for leaving Pennsylvania is proper.

Jurisdictional issues are confusing and can be very complex. At Williams Family Law our Bucks County child custody lawyers have extensive experience handling complex custody cases. If you have questions please contact Williams Family Law at 215-340-2207, or email info@bucksfamilylawyers.com.