Meaning and Implications of Interstate Custody

Interstate custody is already a complicated matter, but the complexities are magnified when parents live in different states.

Meaning and Implications of Interstate Custody NJThe last few decades have seen major changes in the way people move around the country and the world to seek new education and work opportunities. Gone are the days when most individuals settled down and remained in the same zip code where they graduated from high school. While globalization and expanded opportunities can present many career and experiential benefits, they can also create significant challenges to child custody arrangements when couples break up or get divorced.

Depending on one’s geographic location, moving to a new state may involve a distance of merely a few miles or it could be hundreds or thousands of miles. Whenever parents are separated by state lines, it becomes more complicated to ensure the best interests of the child are met. Interstate custody cases also raise questions about which state has jurisdiction over the case and whether an out-of-state move for one parent is even permissible.

At The Montanari Law Group, our trusted team of family law attorneys helps parents navigate interstate custody cases that cross the lines into New Jersey. We can assist you with determining who has jurisdiction in your case and the appropriate next steps for handling custody, relocation, support, or other related matters. Contact our office in Little Falls, NJ, at (973) 233-4396 to speak with a custody lawyer who can provide further guidance.

Interstate Custody Cases: When Parents Live in Different States

Jurisdiction is a legal concept that determines which court has the power to make decisions about the custody of a child. When two parents live in different states, it is crucial to determine what state has proper jurisdiction over the matter. Different states have different laws regarding child custody, child support, and related issues. “Forum shopping,” where a parent may try to move to another state that could be more favorable to their position, is something that the law seeks to discourage.

In order to address these issues, most states have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Massachusetts is the only state that has not adopted the Act. The UCCJEA serves to provide consistency and uniformity in custody decisions and helps to prevent jurisdictional conflicts between states when an interstate custody case arises. Under the Act, the child’s home state or “domicile” is prioritized when determining which state has jurisdiction over the case. The child’s domicile is the state where they have lived for the six months preceding the custody case. States that adopt the UCCJEA also recognize the child custody determinations made by the child’s domicile state.

The Complexities of Interstate Child Custody Matters

There are several common issues that arise in interstate custody cases, including the enforcement of custody orders issued by one state across state lines. Particularly when the non-custodial parent refuses to comply, enforcing a custody order issued in the child’s home state in the non-custodial parent’s home state can be complicated. Issues can also arise when one parent seeks to modify an existing custody order, especially if the custodial parent seeks to move to a new state with the child. In most cases, the custodial parent or a parent with joint custody will need to seek consent from the other parent or the court before moving out of state.

A less common, but very serious issue that can arise in interstate custody cases is parental kidnapping, when one parent takes the child to another state without the permission of the other parent or the court. Not only can such actions have serious consequences in custody determinations, but they can even lead to criminal charges in some cases.

How is the Child’s Domicile Determined in Interstate Custody Cases?

When a child has resided in one state for the six months immediately preceding a child custody case, determining the child’s domicile is fairly straightforward. However, if a child has moved significantly in their life or has spent equal time in two different states, then the court may need to consider additional factors like the child’s connections to each state, family connections, where their primary care physician is located, where they attend school, and other community ties.

Sometimes, interstate custody cases can be very complicated and require a close examination of the facts. Take for example, a long distance couple who share a child. The child’s mother lived in Florida and the father lived in New Jersey when the mother became pregnant. The couple was unmarried but had no formal custody agreement in place. The child was born in Florida. At the age of one month, the mother and child came to New Jersey for two months before returning to Florida for another month. During this time, the child’s pediatrician was located in Florida. The child had equal community ties and family ties in Florida and New Jersey. At four months old, the mother and child moved to New Jersey and established care with a new pediatrician. Three months later, after discovering illicit drug use by the mother, the child’s father filed for emergency custody of the child in New Jersey. The mother argued that New Jersey lacked jurisdiction of the cases and Florida was the proper venue. How would the court decide this issue?

Well, this is an example where the answer is not black and white. The child has spent 2 months of her life in Florida, but for the first four months of the child’s life, her pediatrician was located in Florida and her primary caretaker, the mother, was a resident of Florida. The child has spent a total of 5 months in New Jersey, but for 2 of those months, she was just visiting. At only 7 months old at the time the custody case was initiated, she spent the 3 months immediately preceding the case living in New Jersey, where she established care with a pediatrician, and where both of her parents resided at the time.

Given the unique circumstances surrounding the case, a New Jersey court may well find that it does have jurisdiction over the case. It is easy to see the indispensable role that a family lawyer would play in a case like this, as presenting the facts in a persuasive manner could be determinative in the case.

Adapting Custody Arrangements: Modifications for Interstate Relocation

What Happens when Custody Issues Cross State Lines in Wayne NJAs the life circumstances of parents change, the need to modify a child custody order may arise. If a parent must relocate due to a job transfer, to remarry, or other factors such as health care needs or educational opportunities, a modification of the custody order may be necessary. Certainly, if the move involves relocation of the child, consent from the non-custodial parent or court will be required in most cases.

However, a modification may also be necessary or helpful even if the non-custodial parent seeks to move out of state. For example, if a non-custodial parent is moving out of state, they may wish to change their visitation schedule to facilitate travel and maintain meaningful contact with the child. To make a change to an existing custody order, a parent may petition to court to modify the order.

How to Prevent and Address Custody Order Violations in NJ

If one parent moves to another state with a child without permission from the other parent or court in violation of a child custody order, the parent who is left behind can file a motion with the court to enforce the existing order. The court might issue a warrant for the child’s immediate return and involve law enforcement to ensure compliance. They can also use the provisions of the UCCJEA to cooperate and communicate with the courts of the state where the child is located. Finally, the court is able to impose fines on the parent and modify the custody arrangement to limit the parent’s custodial rights. If the parent does not comply, they can be held in contempt of court.

Contact a Clifton Child Custody Lawyer for Help With Your Interstate Custody Matters

Interstate custody issues are not just complicated, they are also very stressful. An experienced family lawyer at The Montanari Law Group can provide invaluable support as you initiate a custody case involving interstate issues, seek modification of an existing order due to out-of-state relocation, or need help enforcing an order if it is violated by a parent. Having a skilled and knowledgeable attorney on our team by your side will help to ensure that the best interests of your child are protected and that you can navigate the stressful complexities of an interstate custody proceeding with confidence and a clear path forward.

We help clients with interstate custody matters in Clifton, Millburn, Totowa, Haledon, Hoboken, Caldwell, Kearny, Montvale, Paramus, Teaneck, and throughout Passaic County, Hudson County, Essex County, and Bergen County, New Jersey. To receive a free consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us at (973) 233-4396 today.


To speak with one of our highly knowledgeable attorneys, contact us today at (973)-233-4396 or toll-free at (888)-877-7985. You can also complete the form below to begin your conversation. We are a personalized, boutique-style law firm that offers free initial consultations and flexible appointment options.