If you are a parent just starting the divorce process you may be concerned about where your children are going to live and what the visitation schedule will be with your soon to be ex-spouse. You also want to know how much child support is going to be each month. These are issues that the Washington family court is also interested in as it seeks to act in the best interests of the children.
If your children do not live in the state of Washington, custody may become more complicated. In some cases, Washington courts may lack jurisdiction over your children and, therefore, be unable to grant a parenting plan or custody order.
Here are four common questions about jurisdiction and child custody that will help you better understand how legal jurisdiction is established.
1. How does the law determine my children’s “home state”?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act defines a child’s “home state” as the state where the child has lived with a parent for six consecutive months prior to the commencement of the custody proceeding (or since birth for a child younger than six months).
If your children have lived here in the state of Washington for the past six months or longer, Washington is the “home state” of your children.
2. What if my children just moved to another state?
It is not uncommon for one spouse to move out of state, often with the children, during a separation or shortly before a divorce starts. Jurisdiction does not automatically shift to the new state where the children are now living. The length of time they have been in a location is important in determining when jurisdiction may change.
Consider this scenario. A married couple with children has lived in Washington for the past two years. Three months ago, one spouse moved out of state with the children. The other spouse, who still lives in Washington, files for divorce. Does Washington still have jurisdiction over the children?
In this scenario, Washington would still have jurisdiction over the children. There are three key factors to consider. The length of time the children lived in Washington, the fact that one parent continues to live in Washington, and the short amount of time the children have lived in the new state, outside of Washington.
If Washington was the child’s home state within six months before the divorce is filed and one parent has remained living in Washington, then Washington will remain the child’s home state even if the child has left the state.
3. What if my children never lived in Washington?
If your children have never lived in the state of Washington, our courts probably will not have jurisdiction over custody. Your children’s home state will be the state in which they currently live. There are, however, some exceptions where Washington may still have jurisdiction.
One exception is made when no other state currently has jurisdiction. Consider this scenario. A married couple, living in Montana, decides to try a trial separation. One spouse moves to Washington. Three months later the other spouse moves with the children to California. Four months after that, the spouse in Washington files for divorce. Does Washington have jurisdiction over the children?
In this scenario it is possible that Washington would have jurisdiction over custody. The first spouse now lives in Washington, and is able to file for divorce here. The second spouse with the children has lived in California for only 3 months, and has not met the 6 month residency requirement for the California courts to acquire jurisdiction over the children for a custody order. Additionally, neither the spouses, nor the children have lived in Montana for the past consecutive six months. Therefore, Montana is not the home state. Under such circumstances then, Washington may be the only state with jurisdiction because the one spouse has resided in Washington for over 6 months.
Depending on the circumstances, it is also possible for the parents to agree that Washington has jurisdiction and that custody and child support will be determined in Washington family court.
Finally, in some rare cases, Washington may be able to take emergency jurisdiction. This can only be done in limited circumstances in order to protect children from abuse. Such emergency orders are only temporary and the matter will still need to be resolved in the children’s home state.
4. I got divorced in another state, can I modify child custody in Washington?
If a standing child custody, visitation, support or other related order has been issued by another state, that state will likely have continuing jurisdiction. This would apply as well to any orders originating from a legal separation as well as custody and support cases where the parents were not married. Therefore, if you were divorced in another state and your spouse and children still live there, all divorce modifications will need to be handled in that state.
The only exception to this would be if your children no longer live in the state where the case was originally heard. Especially if your children now live in Washington, you can file paperwork to ask the original state to decline jurisdiction and allow Washington to take jurisdiction.
Don’t Waste Time
If your children recently moved out of Washington, it is important that you pay attention to how much time has passed. Once your children have been in another state for 6 months, the new state could qualify as their home state for jurisdiction. Laws differ from state to state and out-of-state parenting plans modifications can get expense. So it is important to know how court jurisdiction is going to affect your particular case.
Jurisdiction is a very complex issue and the specific circumstances of each case need to be carefully evaluated by a qualified Washington divorce attorney. To get specific answers about jurisdiction, talk to a lawyer today.
Washington Divorce Lawyers Ready to Help
Divorce Lawyers For Men™ attorneys help husbands and fathers going through divorce. Meet in person with a Washington divorce lawyer who will be happy to explain jurisdiction and the divorce process to you. Call us today at (877) 866-7393 to speak with an attorney who understands your situation and can offer real help.
If you would like more information on the divorce process, or to take the best divorce resources with you in print, please check out our free divorce guide for men or contact our office to meet with an attorney about your particular circumstances.