After the finalization of a divorce decree, it is not uncommon for spouses to move to different states. If you obtained full custody of your children, your ex-spouse might feel resentful, and might seek opportunities to get that award modified. Can they bring an action in a court in their new state to modify your divorce decree in a way that is more favorable to them?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a statute that 49 states – including Texas – have adopted. It governs how courts are supposed to treat custody disputes or challenges to divorce decrees between ex-spouses that live in a different state from the one where the divorce decree was originally established.
Under the UCCJEA, the court that first hands down a custody arrangement decree to a divorcing couple continues to have exclusive jurisdiction over that custody matter. Courts in other states in the nation must respect the decree and enforce it as if they themselves had passed it.
For example, if your divorce happened in a Texas court, and your ex subsequently moves to Louisiana, a Louisiana court would have no jurisdiction to modify the Texas court’s custody award. Any challenge to the custody arrangement could only happen from a Texas court.
The domicile requirement
This exclusive jurisdiction for Texas courts only persists as long as the child and at least one parent is domiciled in Texas – or has significant contacts with Texas. If the child and both parents permanently leave Texas, then a new state’s courts could obtain jurisdiction over the matter.
The purpose of this statute is to prevent forum shopping – which means challenging a custody arrangement in a state with more favorable laws. In this way, other states will uphold the terms of a divorce decree even if it is different from how that state would have decided the matter.
Navigating your new life as a recently divorced parent comes with all sorts of trials. At least your mind can be at ease knowing that, as long as you stay in Texas, your custody award will be safe from a challenge from another state’s courts.