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Jurisdiction in California Child Custody and Visitation Cases

Child custody disputes can often be emotionally trying experiences. Parents fighting to have their children in their lives may not realize the rules that they have to follow when filing child custody cases. Not all courts have the right to hear a custody case, and parents in California facing custody battles should understand how the law determines a court's jurisdiction in such cases.

When Both Parents Live in California

Under a federal law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the court in a child's home state has jurisdiction over custody matters. A child's home state is whichever state the child has lived in with a parent for at least six months. If the child is not yet six months old or has not lived in any state for at least six months, then his or her home state is the state in which he or she has "significant connections."

When both parents are living in California, barring exceptional circumstances, the California state courts would have jurisdiction over the custody matter. Therefore, child custody cases are most often decided in the county court where the child has the most contacts, such as residence, school attendance, child care, etc.

When the Parents Live in Different States

Congress passed the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act to prevent parents from taking children to other states to try to circumvent custody decrees issued in a state where the parents and child used to reside. If a state court with jurisdiction in the case has issued a custody order, then other states must enforce the order. A state court cannot just issue a new custody order if a parent petitions for one.

As such, parents who move to California from other states generally may not file custody petitions in California if an order in another state exists. Likewise, parents cannot leave California to try to evade a California custody order. If parents wish to have a California custody order modified after they have left the state, they must either return to California to do so, or the California court must transfer jurisdiction to a different state after receiving a petition with reasons for doing so.

Seek Legal Help

Child custody disputes can be complex matters, especially when the parents live or wish to live in different states. If you have questions about child custody, talk to a seasoned child custody attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you about the options available to you.