Jurisdiction can be summed up as the power to make legal decisions and orders. A court must have jurisdiction over a case to make decisions that bind the parties.

Jurisdiction is very important in the context of family law because each state has its own interpretation about how custody, child support, spousal maintenance and basically all other issues in a divorce should be settled.

In many cases, jurisdiction is not an issue that parties litigate or fight over. If both parents and the child live in Arizona, it is clear that Arizona’s courts have jurisdiction.

However, complications can arise if the parents do not reside in the same state.

Determining which state has jurisdiction to hear a custody claim is where the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) comes into play. The UCCJEA has outlined a set of criteria to determine which court has jurisdiction over child custody determination. Per the UCCJEA, jurisdiction over the initial custody determination can be obtained in the following ways, in order of preference:

  1. If the state was the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six (6) months before the commencement of custody proceeding and the child is absent from the state but a parent continues to live in the state.
  2. There is no jurisdiction as mentioned above, or the home state of the child declines to exercise jurisdiction because both of the following exist:
    1. The child and at least one of the child’s parents have a significant connection to the state attempting to exercise jurisdiction AND
    2. Substantial evidence is available in the state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.
  3. All states that would otherwise have jurisdiction decline to exercise it because they feel another state would be more appropriate.
  4. There is no jurisdiction in any other state on any other ground.

Once a court has made a custody determination, that court maintains jurisdiction over all matters concerning that child, unless it later determines that the child or parent no longer has significant connection with the state or a determination is made that the child and both parents no longer reside in that state.

If you are facing a custody battle with a parent that resides in a different state and would like to work with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call OWENS & PERKINS at (480) 994-8824 to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.