What is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is not a Washington law. It is a federal statute determines which state should exercise jurisdiction over child custody matters if two or more states have legitimate and competing claims of jurisdiction.
Every state except Massachusetts has adopted the UCCJEA. In Washington, the UCCJEA is found in RCW 26.27.201.
In simplest terms, the UCCJEA limits a Washington court's subject matter jurisdiction over a particular case. For example, a child may have lived in both Oregon and Washington for periods of time before the parents divorced, but realistically only one state can exercise jurisdiction.
The purpose of the UCCJEA is to determine which state has the better or more legitimate claim to jurisdiction – Oregon or Washington.
How does the UCCJEA work in Washington?
Under RCW 26.27.201, a Washington court has jurisdiction over the child in one of the following 4 cases:
- Washington is the child's home state.
- Washington is not the child's home state but the child and at least one parent have a "significant connection" with the state (more than just physical presence in Washington)
- Another state declines to exercise jurisdiction over the child because it determines that Washington is the more appropriate forum
- No state satisfies one of the three tests described above--home state, significant connections, or more appropriate forum--so Washington decides to exercise jurisdiction in the interests of the parties.
What state is the child's home state?
Under the UCCJEA, the home state is the state in which a child lived with a parent or a parental type picture for "at least six consecutive months" before the child custody proceeding begins.
If your child is less than 6 months old, then the child's home state is where he or she has lived since birth.
Example: John and Jane have a 4-year old child. Until the child turned 4, the parties lived in Oregon. For the past 9 months, they have lived in Washington. Washington is the child's home state.
How do I prove that my child has significant connections with Washington?
The UCCJEA requires "substantial evidence" about the child's "care, protection, training, and personal relationships. The court will consider the following factors:
- how long the child has lived in Washington
- whether extended lives in the state
- whether the child's teachers, counselors, health care providers live in the state
Example : John and Jane lived in Oregon with their son for nearly four years, but they have lived in Washington for the past 3 months. Their son has a close relationship with both sets of grandparents, who all live in Washington. John owns a business in Washington that employs hundreds of people. John and his son have significant business and personal connections to Washington.
My child is in danger but I'm not from Washington. What can I do?
Under the UCCJEA, a Washington court may exercise what is called temporary emergency jurisdiction to protect the child from harm or abuse. This means that Washington can issue any necessary and emergency orders (i.e. a domestic violence protection order) until the child's home state learns about the emergency.
This temporary jurisdiction even applies if another state's court has issued an earlier child custody order.
To exercise temporary jurisdiction, the child must be physically present in the state.
Example: Jane and John live in Portland. After John physically abuses their son, Jane and their son stay with her sister in Vancouver. The next day, she files for a domestic violence order in Clark County Superior Court. Clark County can exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.
The child's other parent and I are not married. Does the UCCJEA still apply?
The UCCJEA applies in all child custody proceedings, regardless of whether the parents are married.
How do you serve child custody papers under the UCCJEA?
Under RCW 26.27.081, you must notify the other parent of a pending child custody action.
If the other parent is not in Washington at the time, you must provide notice "in a manner reasonably calculated to give actual notice," and this may be done in one of the following ways:
- Personal service per Washington State law
- Service by mail so long as you provide for return receipt requested
- Any court-directed method.
A few things to keep in mind. The three (3) methods listed are not the only methods - they are three (3) possible methods. So long as service will actually get to the other parent, you have complied with the UCCJEA.
Can I serve court papers via email under the UCCJEA?
Very likely yes.
Most people, and judges, would agree that email is "reasonably calculated" to get to someone. Over 90 percent of Americans use email,
Of course, to be safe, you can (and should) file a motion with the court requesting permission to serve electronically.
Can I serve court papers via social media like Facebook under the UCCJEA?
There are over 180 million active Facebook users throughout the country. For the reasons discussed above, you can very likely show that social media is reasonably calculated to give the other parent notice of the lawsuit.
Again, if in doubt, I recommend you file a motion with the Court. Show that the other parent uses social media and include screenshots of past social media correspondence between the two of you.
Does the UCCJEA apply if the child's other parent lives in a different county?
For purposes off the UCCJEA, a foreign country is treated as a different state. If the other parent lives in France, for example, then a Washington court will initially determine whether Washington or France has a stronger jurisdictional claim, using the factors listed in RCW 26.27.081.