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Interstate "Full Faith and Credit" Custody Law

You jumped through all the right hoops following your divorce, and you thought you had the whole custody thing figured out. But what happens to your custody order if you move to another state? Of if your ex does -- will your custody order follow your kids’ visit to California if you live in Florida? In most cases you can relax, as custody orders are nearly universal. Here are some ins and outs of what is called the “full faith and credit” custody law, and when and where it applies.

Full Faith And Credit Given To Child Custody Determinations

In order to create consistency between state custody laws, a federal law known as the Full Faith and Credit Law (28 U.S. Code § 1738A) requires every state to enforce any custody or visitation determination made by a court of another state. For example, authorities in California have to enforce and abide by custody orders made by a Florida court. This applies to children under 18 and includes permanent and temporary orders, and initial orders and modifications made by the “home state” court.

The federal statute defines the home state as the state in which the child lived with either one or both of his or her parents for at least six consecutive months. If the child is less than six months old, it would be the state in which the child lived from birth with either parent.

Applicable Custody Determinations

In order to qualify for full faith and credit, a child custody or visitation determination must be made by a court that is in child’s home state and has jurisdiction under the laws of the state. A court could also have jurisdiction if it appears that no other state would have jurisdiction as a home state and it is in the best interest of the child that a court of that state assume jurisdiction because the child and his parents have a significant connection with the state and there is substantial evidence supporting the child's present or future care, protection, training, and personal relationships in that state.

If a valid custody determination hasn’t been ordered yet, the provisions of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, as adopted by each state, will apply. A court in a particular state can hear a custody case if that state has been the home state of the child within six months of the date the legal action was brought and at least one parent continues to reside in the state. Or, if a state with jurisdiction over a custody case declines jurisdiction or no other state may assert jurisdiction over the child, a court in the state where the action is filed can issue an applicable custody determination.

Modification of Custody Determinations

As a general rule, a court cannot modify a custody order made by a court in another state. Even if no order has been filed yet, as long as custody proceedings have begun, a court in another state cannot exercise jurisdiction or make its own custody determinations. However, a court can modify a determination if the original court of the other state no longer has jurisdiction, or has declined to exercise its jurisdiction.

Have Your Custody Case Evaluated at No Cost to You

Navigating child custody issues, especially state-to-state, can be confusing. If you have an existing child custody case, or just want to know your rights and responsibilities consulting with an experienced family lawyer can help. A local attorney can provide you with a free legal evaluation to help you make more sense of your particular issue.

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