Child custody law is incredibly important. So much so that nearly all states in the U.S. follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Signed into law in 1997, the UCCJEA reduces child custody conflict between states, allowing courts to recognize other states’ custody orders and enforce them, if necessary.
Massachusetts, however, is the only state that has not yet adopted the UCCJEA. The Massachusetts State Senate voted to adopt the act in 2018, but as of January 1, 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee is still reviewing the legislation. The following guidelines can help custodial parents navigate this unique legal landscape.
Need-to-know facts about MA custody
Being the only legal outlier in the nation, parents may find Massachusetts custody laws challenging to navigate. Keeping the following facts in mind may help provide clarity when working with Massachusetts courts:
- Subject matter jurisdiction: Subject matter jurisdiction defines when a court may decide a legal matter. Under the UCCJEA, the court that initially rules on a child custody matter retains continuing jurisdiction even after a child establishes a new “home state.” Massachusetts, on the other hand, can only exercise subject matter jurisdiction if the child’s home state is Massachusetts or in an emergency case. Even then, any custody rulings are temporary.
- Moving states: Moving a child under joint custody to or from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can create challenging legal situations. A Massachusetts court may have jurisdiction over child support in such cases, but unable to rule on modifications to a parenting agreement. Litigation for two separate cases may occur in two separate states, collecting twice the financial and emotional toll from families.
- Knowledge gap: Being the sole outlier, many attorneys and courts in the greater U.S. may be unaware of Massachusetts child custody law. Lawyers may overlook vital documents not required by other states or not realize how freely Massachusetts waives jurisdiction. Families involved in like processes can expect delays, miscommunication and even conflicting rulings if the knowledge gap goes unaddressed.
Secure knowledgeable legal counsel
Families caught in a tricky custody battle across Massachusetts state lines find much more success securing the services of a local lawyer familiar with Massachusetts family law. An attorney will help co-parents navigate this dense legal matter so parents can keep their focus on the children.