Child Custody

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) expressly states that its general purposes are (1) to prevent jurisdictional competition and conflict among state courts regarding matters of child custody, because such competition and conflict have resulted in the shifting of children from state to state with harmful effects on their well-being; (2) to help assure that a custody decree is rendered in the state that can “best decide the case in the interest of the child;” (3) to discourage the use of courts in different states to perpetuate controversies regarding child custody; (4) to deter abductions; (5) to avoid relitigation of custody decisions of other states; (6) to facilitate the enforcement of custody decrees of other states; (7) to promote and expand the exchange of information and other forms of mutual assistance between courts of different states that are concerned with the same child; and (8) to make the law uniform with respect to child custody among the states that have enacted the UCCJEA.

The goal of creating uniform law to govern interstate child custody matters is emphasized in the UCCJEA. In addition to being listed among the express purposes of the Act, uniformity is mentioned in a UCCJEA provision that requires trial judges who are applying and construing the Act to consider the need to promote uniformity of the law with respect to child custody, among states that enact the UCCJEA.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) took effect in Florida on October 1, 2002. 1 It applies to proceedings to determine, modify, or enforce child custody that were filed on or after October 1, 2002. In addition, the UCCJEA applies to any motion or request for relief filed after October 1, 2002. That is, it applies to motions or requests for relief that were made after the effective date of the Act, even if the proceedings in which the motions or requests were made were initiated before the Act’s effective date of October 1, 2002. If a pending motion or request for relief was made prior to October 1, 2002, it is not governed by the UCCJEA. Rather, it is governed by the now-repealed Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act.

Pursuant to the UCCJEA, initial and modification proceedings, which are called “child custody proceedings” under the Act, include proceedings for divorce, separation, neglect, abuse, dependency, guardianship, paternity, termination of parental rights, and protection from domestic violence in which the issue of child custody exists.

However, if a paternity action is filed in Florida by a nonresident-mother against a putative father who resides in the state, and if the putative father agrees that the mother should be awarded permanent primary residential custody of the child, custody is not an issue in the case. Therefore, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is inapplicable, and a Florida court may properly maintain subject matter jurisdiction over the action regardless of the UCCJEA’s requirements for jurisdiction.

The UCCJEA does not apply to proceedings pertaining to the authorization of emergency medical care for a child. Additionally, initial or modification proceedings that are governed by the Indian Welfare Act are not governed by the UCCJEA. However, in proceedings that involve Indian children and that are not governed by the Indian Welfare Act, trial courts should apply the initial and modification provisions of the UCCJEA to Indian tribes in the same manner as they would apply those provisions to states of the United States. Similarly, courts must apply the UCCJEA’s initial and modification provisions to foreign countries in the same manner as they would apply the provisions to states of the U.S. Further, child custody determinations made by foreign countries or Indian tribes in substantial conformity with the jurisdictional standards of the UCCJEA must be recognized and enforced under the Act’s provisions regarding registration of child custody determinations and the enforcement of such determinations. However, a Florida court is not required to recognize a child custody determination made in a foreign country if the child custody law of that country violates fundamental principles of human rights.

An order for the return of a child made under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction may be enforced by a Florida court under the UCCJEA the same as a child custody determination under the Act.

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