Interstate Custody Jurisdiction Issues in Rhode Island Family Court

Often, when one parent of a child moves out of state and the other remains in state, issues of jurisdiction arise when parents need to use the court system to resolve disputes. These jurisdiction questions increase in importance if the child or children move out of state also.

Jurisdiction determines which states court can hear the case. If a parent from RI moved to Florida, nobody would think its right to file a case in Colorado. Could they file in Florida? It depends.

To solve these issues, each state has adopted their own set of statutes, often referred to as a state’s version of the “Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act” (UCCJA) or “Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act” (PKPA). In Rhode Island, General Laws Chapter 15-14.1 deals with these issues.

There are three general types of jurisdiction types which determine if Rhode Island is the appropriate state to hear child issues in family court. They are “home state” jurisdiction, “emergency” jurisdiction, and “convenient forum” jurisdiction. Below are abbreviated descriptions of each type of jurisdiction. As such, they are not comprehensive, and you should consult an attorney before making a decision on your own as to where jurisdiction may exists for children in your particular case.

Home State Jurisdiction

In general, Home State jurisdiction arises in the state where a child has most recently resided for a six month consecutive period. Examples:

  • Joe and Jane and their son live in Rhode Island and have lived in RI for years. Jane moves to Massachusetts four months ago with their son. RI has home state jurisdiction.
  • Same as above but Jane moved 9 months ago. Rhode Island does not have home state jurisdiction.

Emergency Jurisdiction

Emergency jurisdiction arises temporarily if the child is physically in Rhode Island and has been abandoned or it is necessary when a child, or their parent or sibling, has been subjected to actual or threatened mistreatment or abuse. The child must be in Rhode Island. Example:

  • Mom and child have lived out of state for years. Child visits dad in Rhode Island and discloses, and dad believes, that child has been subjected to routine physical abuse by mom or her boyfriend. Assuming the allegations are credible, Rhode Island courts may exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction.

Convenient Forum Jurisdiction

Convenient forum jurisdiction arises, generally, when no other state has exercised “home state” or “emergency” jurisdiction, the child is in Rhode Island, and the court determined that Rhode Island is the most appropriate forum for jurisdiction. Example:

  • If mom and child have lived out of state for years but have never actually stayed in one place for more than a few months, and the child comes to Rhode Island. Dad lives an yet another state. If mom seeks to establish orders relating to the child, Rhode Island would likely be named the most convenient forum for jurisdiction.

For more detailed answers, call or email our Rhode Island interstate custody and relocation attorney.

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