If I do not like an existing child custody agreement, can I file for custody in another state?

If you do not like the custody agreement that you have in place, filing for custody in another state probably won't be an option. While in the past it might have been possible in certain cases for parents to take a custody agreement to different jurisdictions while looking for a favorable judge, today this has been prevented by legislation called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Understanding the Function of the UCCJEA

The UCCJEA has been adopted by almost all states within the United States and puts a number of protections in place that prevent parents from moving from court to court in hopes of obtaining a different custody decision. Under the rules of the UCCJEA, a court does not have jurisdiction to decide custody of a child unless the child is a resident of that state and has been a resident of that state for at least six months prior to the time the custody suit is filed. Limited exceptions are made if a child has not been a resident of any one state for the six months prior. In such cases, the courts will determine who has jurisdiction over the case by considering who has the most connections to the child.

Once a court has created a custody agreement, the court that establishes the order can retain continuing exclusive jurisdiction over that custody case if the state law provides for such jurisdiction. This means that court retains the sole right to alter the agreement unless or until that court surrenders jurisdiction to a new state and/or unless the original state declines their exercise of jurisdiction because it has become more logical for another state to make a ruling. This may occur, for example, if the parents of the child have moved to a new location and established long-term residency there.

To alter a custody agreement, therefore, the parents must return to the original state where the order was made or they must convince the court that a new state should now be in control of the custody decision. 

Out-of-State Custody Agreements and Emergencies

In the event of an emergency, it may be possible for a state to act on custody issues for a child from another state. However, there must be a legitimate and compelling reason why that state needs to act, and often such changes will be made on a temporary rather than on a permanent basis in response to dealing with the emergency that necessitated the court to act.

If you believe that the situation may be an emergency situation, you should contact a lawyer to find out what your options are. A lawyer may also help you to determine what court has jurisdiction under the rules of the UCCJEA and how to proceed in altering your custody arrangement with the proper court.