How Do Interstate Custody Arrangements Work?

Patricia TichenorLegal

interstate custody - father putting mask on child in car seat

If you’re going through a divorce with children, you know that custody and visitation arrangements can be difficult to navigate. Custody can become even trickier when one parent decides to move out of state during or after the divorce.

Divorced or unmarried parents who live or plan to live in separate states should consider establishing an interstate custody arrangement that accounts for the laws in both jurisdictions. Generally, a minor child will reside primarily with one parent in their “home state” and travel out of state to visit the other parent on an agreed-upon schedule.

Below is a basic overview of how interstate custody cases may be handled and what co-parents should consider when developing a physical custody and visitation arrangement.

How does interstate custody work?

Across the United States (except in Massachusetts and Vermont), child custody and visitation are governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This Act ensures that certain standards are followed when determining the proper jurisdiction for child custody cases, which may be questioned in interstate arrangements.

In order of priority, the UCCJEA determines jurisdiction based on the following criteria:

  • The child’s home state – The child must have resided in the state with a parent for at least six months to be considered their home state.
  • The state where the child has ‘significant connections’ – Connections may include extended relatives, close friends, or caregivers.
  • The state where the child has been relocated for their safety – The child was removed from another state to avoid abuse, neglect, or abandonment and now resides in a different state.

If the child’s current state of residence can’t meet at least one of the above requirements, that state’s courts does not have the authority to issue custody or visitation orders. If more than one state meets these requirements, the first Court to issue a judgment is given preference. These standards are in place to prevent one parent from wrongfully relocating or retaining a child and seeking custody.

It’s important to note that if you are filing your case in one of Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations (J&DR) District Courts, you and your child’s other parent must both sign and notarize a UCCJEA Affidavit, even if you both plan to remain in Virginia. The Affidavit discloses to the Court where the minor child currently lives, other addresses where the child has resided in the last five (5) years, and whether there are any other custody/visitation court cases involving the child (such as a pending divorce or modification case).

Potential considerations for parents who live in different states

As you and your child’s other parent are working through your interstate custody arrangement, there are a few questions to ask yourself to create the best plan for all parties involved:

  • How often will our child visit their out-of-state parent, and for how long? While the out-of-state parent may want to see their child every weekend, it’s important to consider potential interruptions to schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Frequent or lengthy trips may cause stress on you and your child, so be sure to consider what’s best for everyone’s schedule.
  • Who will arrange the transportation costs and logistics? One parent may be comfortable covering all transportation costs, or you may decide it’s easier to split any travel expenses for the child equally. You will also need to decide who will accompany the child on these trips until they are old enough to travel alone.
  • How difficult will interstate travel be, especially during COVID-19? Even separated or divorced parents who live in the same state have been concerned about visitation during the pandemic, but this could be a real issue for interstate families. With certain states requiring two-week quarantines for out-of-state travelers, you may need to make special provisions in your custody schedule until it is safer to cross state lines.Some parents are using video chats and other tools for virtual “visitation” if physical visitation is not practical.
  • Are there any specific custody laws in either state that should be considered when determining a visitation schedule? An experienced legal professional can help you understand the family laws in your state and whether any specific regulations should factor into your parenting plan.

Get help navigating your custody and visitation arrangement with My Legal Case Coach.

At My Legal Case Coach (MLCC), we empower Virginia residents to represent themselves in their family law cases. With our easy-to-use Custody & Visitation case forms packet, you’ll be able to draft your own Petition or amend an existing custody or visitation Order using our templatized documents. You will also receive very detailed instructions and information to help you understand the laws related to custody and visitation, and how to use that knowledge when preparing your forms.  Lastly, you’ll receive one (1) free hour of virtual 1:1 coaching with an experienced Virginia attorney.

If you need additional help, you can purchase prepaid blocks of ongoing coaching time with the Virginia attorney assigned as your Legal Case Coach for as little as $100 per hour. Not sure MLCC is right for you?  Feel free to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your case, or take our quiz to find out which packet is right for you.