One of the most common issues that come up regarding determining custody for a child deals with whether or not Washington has jurisdiction to hear your case.  If both parents are presently in Washington and the child resides in Washington (or was born in Washington), it’s usually straight-forward.  However, what if you presently moved to Washington and the other parent lives outside of Washington? What if the other parent started a family law case in another state?  What if a court never determined custody?

Jurisdiction and custody are very complicated areas of law; you will need an attorney help you navigate the issues.

How do you know if Washington has jurisdiction to hear your case?  Generally speaking, in order to determine if Washington has jurisdiction to initially determine custody, the courts consider numerous factors set forth in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”).  The main factor used to determine whether a court has jurisdiction over a child is the “home” state factor. Under the UCCJEA, the home state of a child is defined as the following:

“Home state” means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with a parent or person acting as a parent. A period of temporary absence of a child, parent, or person acting as a parent is part of the period. RCW 26.27.021(7).

The courts often must decide which state has jurisdiction when parents try to have the matter heard in different states.  To that end the courts maintained that “[t]he child’s home state, if one exits, has priority, and no other state may assert jurisdiction unless the home state declines.” In re Parentage, Parenting, and Support of A.R.K.-K., 142 Wash.App. 297, 303 (Div. 1) (2007).

But what if it is not an initial determination and another state has already made a custody determination?  This is a different scenario and the state that made the initial custody determination will forever have jurisdiction unless and until that state no longer wishes to exercise jurisdiction.  Generally speaking, the court from another state may or will decline jurisdiction depending on many factors, including the length of time the child has been in Washington, where is substantial evidence, emergencies, the location of the parents at the time of filing, etc.  RCW 26.27.201.

As one can readily see, having a competent attorney with knowledge of this tricky area of law is something you need if you wish to be successful in your pursuit of custody of your child.