How Is Child Custody Decided When Parents Live in Different States?

By Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C.Child Custody, Divorce attorney

Child custody in divorce: Mother comforting her daughter, sitting in the bedroom, huggingIf you and an ex-spouse or divorcing spouse live in different states, you may be wondering how child custody is decided. It’s a good question, because states often handle custody very differently.

Custody Generally Follows the Rulings of the Child’s Home State…

Almost all U.S. states follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). According to the Act, custody will follow the determinations of the child’s home state. All custody hearings are physically held in the home state.

The child’s home state, in turn, is usually determined by where the child has lived for the last 6 months. That state’s jurisdiction will have priority over any other state, regardless of where the parents live.

So if your divorcing spouse lives in Florida but you and your children together live in New York, custody law will follow New York law.

If you and your children relocate to any other state, New York remains the children’s home state for six months. After that, the new state, provided the children are still living with you, become the home state.

…But Other Factors Can Be Considered in Deciding the Home State

But there are cases where these general rules may yield to other considerations. The UCCJA also places authority to determine which state is the child’s home state in the court’s hands. The court may consider multiple other factors, in this order according to the UCCJA.

  • The child’s relationships with other people in the state may also be a determining factor in deciding the home state. These connections may be with grandparents, doctors, teachers, other people, and friends.
  • Safety can be a determining factor. If an abusive former spouse caused you to move to another state to put distance between you, for example, the new state may be determined to be the home state.

If parents don’t agree on what the children’s home state is, they might both attempt to gain custody in their state of residence.

If that occurs, judges from both relevant states examine the evidence and decide which state should be considered the home state. Two states are never allowed to be the children’s home state, because of the possibility of conflicting or competing rulings.

If You Need a Divorce Lawyer in New York or New Jersey

At Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, our Rockland County, NY & Bergen County, NJ divorce lawyers have been helping clients with child custody solutions in New York and New Jersey for more than 40 years.

We are experts in child custody, visitation rights, child support, alimony and spousal support, division of marital assets, modification after divorce, parental relocation, and conservatorships.

Additional Resources

  1. Boyd, Karie. “How Is Child Custody Decided When Parents Live in Different States?” January 18, 2016.
  2. Smurda, Matthew. “Which State or Country Should Handle My Multi-State or International Child Custody Dispute?” October 31, 2016.
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