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Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
Similar to the Georgia Child Custody Interstate Jurisdiction Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is also meant to aid courts as well as litigants determine which jurisdiction and venue are appropriate to initiate a change of custody action. The UCCJEA differs in that it is meant to resolve interstate child custody disputes, while the GCCIJA is meant to resolve conflicts concerning child custody within the state of Georgia. The UCCJEA has been adopted by several states throughout the nation, and the law’s general purpose is to make uniform the laws of the states that have adopted the act in order to minimize conflict. See O.C.G.A. §19-9-101.
According to Georgia law, this act is to be liberally construed by Georgia courts in order to avoid jurisdictional competition between states and the harmful affect such competition has on the children involved, and to assure that child custody proceedings take place in the state where the child and his family have the closest connection. See Graham v. Hajosy, 159 Ga.App. 466 (1981). In essence, this act, like the Georgia Child Custody Interstate Jurisdiction Act, is meant to prevent non-custodial parents from kidnapping or otherwise taking their children to another jurisdiction or state in order to seek a change of custody.
In achieving its purpose of resolving and alleviating conflict between states concerning jurisdiction, the act provides clear criteria and priorities as to which state should have jurisdiction to resolve initial child custody disputes, and subsequent modification actions. Additionally, the act provides procedures for providing interstate enforcement of child custody orders.
Initial Custody Determination
According to the UCCJEA, Georgia, or any other state which adheres to the UCCJEA has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:
- This state is 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 months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state;
- A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under paragraph (1) of this subsection, or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum … and:
- The child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
- Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
- All courts having jurisdiction under paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child … ; or
- No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection.
O.C.G.A. § 19-9-61 (a).
In most cases, if Georgia is the home state of the child involved, Georgia and only Georgia will have the jurisdiction to determine the custody of that child.
Modification of Prior Custody Awards
Except in instances where a child has been abandoned or where it is necessary in an emergency to protect the safety and welfare of a child, a state’s court may not modify a child custody determination made by a court of another state unless the court seeking the modification has jurisdiction to make an initial determination pursuant to the sections of the UCCJEA mentioned above and:
- The court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under [the UCCJEA] or that a court [in the state seeking to modify the order] would be a more convenient forum under [the UCCJEA]; or
- A court of [the state seeking to modify the order] or a court of the other state determines that neither the child nor the child's parents or any person acting as a parent presently resides in the other state.
O.C.G.A. §19-9-93, 19-9-64.
Enforcement of Out of State Child Custody Orders
Georgia courts, along with the courts of every other state that adherers to the UCCJEA will “recognize and enforce a child custody determination of a court of another state if the latter court exercised jurisdiction in substantial conformity with this article or the determination was made under factual circumstances meeting the jurisdictional standards of this article and the determination has not been modified in accordance with this article.” O.C.G.A. § 19-9-83(a).
In order to enforce a child custody order entered by a court of another state, Georgia or any other state adhering to the UCCJEA may utilize the remedies available according to the laws of the enforcing state, as well as the remedies provided for by the UCCJEA. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-83(b). The remedies provided for in the UCCJEA include: allowing temporary visitation, registering the child custody order with the superior court of the enforcing state, expediting enforcement of the child custody order, executing a warrant to take physical custody of the child, and seeking the civil enforcement by the district attorney and law enforcement officers. See O.C.G.A. §§19-9-84; 19-9-85; 19-9-88; 19-9-91; 19-9-95; 19-9-96.