UCCJEA: Avoiding Jurisidictional Disputes Among States in Making Child Custody Determinations

In a previous blog, I highlighted that military and Federal employees (and their spouses) absent from Texas on public service may still file for divorce in Texas if Texas remains their “domicile” (i.e. permanent home to which they intend to return).  Click here to access that blog post.  The fact that a public servant serving outside of Texas can file for divorce in Texas doesn’t automatically give Texas jurisdiction to determine the initial orders for custody and visitation of the children.  Which states has jurisdiction to make the initial custody orders is determined by a uniform law called the UCCJEA.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been adopted in every state except one, that state being Massachusetts.  Massachusetts may soon join the fold as it has active legislation aimed at approval.  According to its authors, the purposes of the UCCJEA are to:

  1. Avoid jurisdictional disputes among states;
  2. Promote cooperation between courts of different states in interstate custody disputes; and,
  3. Discourage use of the interstate system to: (a) deter child abductions; (b) avoid re-litigation of custody decisions made by other states; and (c) facilitate enforcement of custody orders made by other states.

Under the UCCJEA, only the “home state” of the child has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination (with few exceptions).  The “home state” is the state in which a child lived with the parent (or person acting as a parent) for at least the six months immediately before “commencement” of a child custody proceeding.  A proceeding “commences” upon the first filing of legal papers in a dispute touching upon custody (e.g. suit for divorce or suit for custody).

So, a military member or Federal employee (or spouse) who is a Texas domiciliary, but absent from Texas because of Federal service, may find that the state in which they currently reside–and only that state–has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. 

The UCCJEA contains narrow exceptions to its application.  And in other cases, some specific facts of the case might bear upon how the UCCJEA gets applied.  Some of these twist and intricacies will be the topics of later blogs.  For now, speak with a qualified military or Federal civil service divorce attorney for more information about how the UCCJEA might impact your decision, as a military or Federal employee (or spouse) on duty outside of Texas, to file for divorce in Texas.

Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm.  The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.