Following a divorce, one ex-spouse may decide that he or she wishes to move out of the state where the family previously resided together. When ex-spouses with children live in different states, it can lead to significant child custody and parenting time disputes.
However, interstate child custody disputes must be resolved before any party takes action. Because a court’s custody order has the force of law, moving yourself and your ex-spouse’s children to another state without going through the proper process can lead to a finding of contempt of court and a sanction of fines, even jail time. You may also be criminally charged with parental kidnapping.
In Tennessee, there are three states, federal, and international statutes that govern interstate and international child custody disputes. These statues are:
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
The federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
The UCCJEA is a uniform statute, with a version of the act adopted in every state of the U.S. The act governs state-level interstate child custody determinations.
In Tennessee, the UCCJEA requires a court first to determine if it has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination or if another state should appropriately exercise jurisdiction over the custody matter.
If there has already been an initial determination in a custody matter by another state, the Tennessee court would instead determine whether it had jurisdiction to modify that initial custody determination or if the court should instead simply enforce the initial custody determinations and send the parents back to the state where the initial determination was made. The UCCJEA also facilitates communication between state family courts to help resolve jurisdictional disputes.
The PKPA requires each state to enforce a valid child custody determination made by another state. A Tennessee court, in enforcing the PKPA, would determine if another state’s custody determination complied with the PKPA by considering whether the other state exercised jurisdiction according to its own law, and exercised jurisdiction following the provisions of the PKPA.
Finally, the Hague Convention is an international treaty to which the United States is a party; Tennessee courts will refer to the Hague Convention in international child custody disputes where a child has been moved across country borders, typically ordering the parents to return the situation to the status quo before removal of the child.
If a parent with primary physical custody chooses to relocate with the child or children to another state, a Tennessee court will consider several factors, all of which are intended to answer the overriding question of whether relocation is in the best interests of the child or children.
Some of the factors that Tennessee courts will look at when handling relocation petitions include:
Whether the relocation will improve the child’s educational opportunities
Whether the relocation will provide the child with a higher standard of living (such as if the custodial parent is relocating to take a higher paying job)
Whether the relocation will give the child a better home environment (including improved access to childcare, relatives, or social activities)
Whether relocation would negatively impact the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent (including whether relocation will require modification of the parenting schedule)
Whether relocation would cause the child to lose access to or the ability to foster relationships with extended family or the child’s friends
Whether relocation would cause the child to lose the ability to participate in social or recreational activities the child currently enjoys
The child’s reasoned preference (if the child is mature enough to express whether or not he or she wishes to move and the reasons why or why not he or she wants to move)
When parents seek to move out of state, especially if they wish to move with children subject to a custody order, it can be frustrating and time-consuming to have to try to resolve an interstate child custody dispute through the courts. However, parents can save time and expense and maintain greater control over their family by either entering a settlement agreement or modifying an existing marital settlement agreement that sets forth the parties’ custody arrangement.
Entering a settlement agreement with your child’s other parent to settle your interstate child custody dispute can be far preferable than submitting the issue to the court for resolution. Not only is negotiation or mediation between yourself and your child’s other parent less expensive and time-consuming than a court hearing or a trial, but it allows you to fashion a custody arrangement that works best for you and your child’s other parent rather than having to accept whatever arrangement the court decides to order.
Although if you wish to have your settlement agreement turned into an enforceable court order, you will need to submit it to the court for approval, meaning the court will examine the agreement to ensure that it serves the child’s best interests, in practice courts will typically approve custody settlement agreements reached by parents.
If you and your child’s other parent are having an interstate child custody dispute because one parent lives in another state or the custodial parent wishes to relocate to another state with your child, you need dedicated, experienced legal representation to advocate on your behalf and ensure that you and your child’s rights and interests are protected.
To schedule a free consultation with Tennessee child custody attorney Shannon Jones, call (901) 390-9041 or reach out online. He will sit down with you to discuss your rights and options in interstate child custody disputes. It will be his goal to help you resolve the dispute in a manner that best protects the interests of yourself and your family.