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Divorce Across State Lines: How to Navigate UCCJEA in North Carolina

| Aug 9, 2022 | Child Custody, Divorce, UCCJEA

COVID-19 made many aspects of life more complex, including divorce and child custody. Over the past two years, child custody lawyers have seen it all—parents who withheld exchanges, arguments over remote education, relocations due to remote work, and more. Luckily, The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) brings consistency to state child custody laws.

This article will explore how the UCCJEA might impact your family if you live in North Carolina. Keep reading for the knowledge you need to navigate child custody and moving out of state.


UCCJEA stands for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. It was designed in 1997 to encourage states to cooperate and enforce custody orders made by courts in other states. UCCJEA is a uniform law, enacted by 49 states and some U.S. territories.

Which State Has Child Custody Enforcement Jurisdiction?

In cases where custody crosses state lines, the first step of the process is to determine which state has initial jurisdiction. North Carolina can proceed if no custody order exists in another state. Otherwise, this state cannot move forward unless the other state has stayed its’ proceedings and North Carolina has initial modification jurisdiction.

Spidell Family Law Can Help You Navigate the Custody Process Across State Lines While Adhering to UCCJEA Guidelines.

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How Does the Court Determine Jurisdiction?

To determine which state has jurisdiction, the courts give these two factors the most weight.

1. Initial jurisdiction. The preferable form of jurisdiction for the Court is the child’s home state or where the child lived with a parent (or legal guardian) for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of an action. If the child is under six months old, then the state where they lived from birth with the parent (or legal guardian) counts.

2. Significant connections. The Court’s second choice of jurisdiction is meaningful connection to at least one of the individuals (child, child’s parents, or person acting as parent). When substantial evidence exists concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships, the child has a significant connection with the state.

North Carolina cannot exercise jurisdiction while another state does. However, our state does have modification jurisdiction under UCCJEA. If the other state does not exercise jurisdiction in substantial conformity with UCCJEA, then North Carolina is not required to recognize the order. If, on the other hand, the other state is in substantial conformity, North Carolina can only have jurisdiction under the home state, or it can assume jurisdiction if the prior home state decides to no longer exercise exclusive jurisdiction. It’s important to note that another state may not have jurisdiction to modify, but it may still retain emergency jurisdiction.

Under UCCJEA, What Constitutes Emergency Jurisdiction?

Emergency jurisdiction is the most common instance in which UCCJEA comes into play. So, what justifies an emergency order? This happens when the child is present in the state AND:

● The child has been abandoned.

● The child needs protection due to abuse.

● The child was subjected to threats.

● The child is faced with extraordinary circumstances.

If there is any safety concern, and the Court exercises emergency jurisdiction, the Court can issue a warrant for physical custody and authorize law enforcement to assist in picking up the child(ren). While the Court must hear the witness’s testimony via phone or in person, they can allow law enforcement to enter private property if less intrusive methods aren’t effective. They can also impose conditions so the petitioner cannot leave the jurisdiction.

Need Help Navigating UCCJEA in North Carolina?

If you have questions about custody jurisdiction, Spidell Family Law can meet with you to explain how UCCJEA might impact your case.

Let Us Put Our Child Custody and UCCJEA North Carolina Experience to Work for You!

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