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Which state can change child custody orders?

In Pennsylvania, child custody issues do not necessarily end after divorce when a court issues its custody order, because a parent may seek to modify this order. However, they must file their actions with the correct court when parents or children live in another state.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) governs custody actions in Pennsylvania and 48 other states. Courts in the state where the child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six straight months before the beginning of the custody action have authority to decide these issues under that law.

It also assures that courts with that state continue to have jurisdiction to avoid several courts issuing conflicting orders. This law also discourages a parent from shopping for courts where they feel they will find the most favorable result.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a Texas family court had the power to rule on a child custody issue. In that case, the parents lived in Texas and had two children who were born in that state. The children later moved to Pennsylvania and resided with a guardian. The parents had entered an agreement granting the guardian primary care and full legal and physical guardianship to reflect the best interest of the child.

Within six months after the children moved to Pennsylvania with their guardian, the father filed a custody action in Texas. The Texas court established the parents' custodial arrangements and granted the father the right to designate where the children would reside. The guardian received no notice of these proceedings and filed an action in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania court ruled that Texas courts had the power to modify the custody order under the UCCJEA because the order was originally issued in Texas and the parents stayed in that state. The court also found that Texas had the power to issue the original custody order because the children lived in that state within six months before their father filed the custody action there, the parents continued to reside in Texas and the guardianship agreement ended by a certain date.

When seeking the right court for a modification, a parent or child's relocation outside of Pennsylvania may be a complicating factor, as this case shows. An attorney may be able to help parents pursue their rights in court when this occurs.

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, "Jurisdiction and modifying child custody orders," By Michael E. Bertin, Feb. 13, 2017

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