Interstate child custody jurisdiction
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Interstate child custody jurisdiction


Often, when one parent moves out of state and the other stays, issues of interstate custody jurisdiction arise. Specifically, 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. For example, if a parent from RI moved to Florida, nobody would think its right to file a case in Colorado. Alternatively, could they file in Florida? It depends.

To solve these issues, each state has adopted their own set of statutes. The statutes are 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. These issues actually come up in military divorces often.


There are three general jurisdiction types which determine if RI is the appropriate state. They are “home state” jurisdiction, “emergency” jurisdiction, and “convenient forum” jurisdiction. Abbreviated descriptions of each type of jurisdiction are listed below. 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

Next, 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 that child has been physically abused by mom.  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 “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. For 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 likely the most convenient forum for jurisdiction.
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Don Moyer is a Rhode Island attorney who focuses his practice on family and divorce law. He obtained his legal education at Roger Williams University School of Law. Don’s undergraduate degree is in Finance and Business Administration. His finance degree is a critical benefit to clients litigating any issues relating to real estate, retirement division, hidden assets, support, or any variety of other financial issues.

Don also spent a number of years in the U.S. Army Infantry, including spending a year in the Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary region of Europe in a special operations unit in the immediate aftermath of the Bosnian conflict in 1996-97.

Don has over 21 years of experience litigating and mediating divorce and family law cases in Rhode Island.

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