Which Court Has Jurisdiction Over Child Custody When Parents Live in Different States?

When parents live in different states, child custody issues can become complicated because it’s difficult to know which state has jurisdiction. Generally, whether a court in a certain state has jurisdiction will depend on whether it is considered the child’s home state. Still, in some situations, one state might determine that a court in another state is a more appropriate forum because of the parent’s or child’s ties to that state and the evidence there. In cases where a child needs immediate protection from harm, a court may issue emergency temporary orders when another state has jurisdiction.

If you need help navigating your child custody matter, speak with one of our San Diego lawyers by calling Claery & Hammond, LLPat (310) 817-6904. You can also submit an online contact form, and we will respond promptly.

What Does Jurisdiction Mean?

Legal jurisdiction is an important concept in the court system. Essentially, it is the power of a court to hear and decide cases brought before it.

Jurisdiction establishes what cases a court can and cannot decide, allowing those with legal disputes to request help in the correct forum. If a case goes before a court that does not have jurisdiction, the judgments rendered may not be valid.

If the parents both live in California, the jurisdiction concerning child custody is not typically an issue. However, things can get complicated when one parent lives in CA and the other lives in a different state.

When Does California Have Jurisdiction Over Child Custody Matters?

A California court will have jurisdiction over child custody cases in a couple of situations. First, a court may have the power to render orders if California was the child’s home state when custody proceedings began.

If the child no longer lives in California, a court in this state may still have jurisdiction if it was the child’s home state within 6 months before the custody action was initiated. Additionally, at least one parent must still live in California.

A California court may also make initial custody determinations if a court in the state considered the child’s home state declines jurisdiction. It may do so because it finds that California is a more appropriate place to handle the matter.

A California court may be considered a more appropriate forum if:

  • The child and parent have significant ties to CA and
  • Substantial evidence exists in CA concerning the child’s well-being and upbringing.

Does California Have Exclusive, Continuing Jurisdiction?

Exclusive, continuing jurisdiction is a court’s ability to keep authority over a particular case. This means that the matter will stay in the original court of jurisdiction, even if one or both parents relocate to a different state. It ensures legal consistency, as the same court will handle all aspects of the proceedings.

California will have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over a custody matter when it is deemed that the child has a significant connection to the state and substantial evidence concerning the child’s care and upbringing still exists here.

Should California or another state establish that both parents do not live in CA, this can be grounds for California courts to relinquish jurisdiction.

What If a Parent Needs Emergency Custody Orders in CA?

In cases where California does not have jurisdiction, it may render orders in a custody matter if such is necessary to ensure the child’s safety. Emergency temporary orders may be issued when a child is present in California and has been abandoned or they, their siblings, or their parent is facing mistreatment or abuse.

If a California court renders emergency temporary orders, they will remain valid until a court in the state with legal jurisdiction takes action and makes its own rulings. Should no other custody order be issued, then the California court’s judgments become final, and CA will be considered the child’s home state.

What Happens If Custody Orders Were Issued in Another State?

If a court in another state has issued custody orders, California courts do not have the authority to change them.

A California court may only modify orders under the following conditions:

  • The other state no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction,
  • The other state finds a California court a more appropriate place to hear the case, or
  • The other state and California determine that the other state is no longer the child’s or parent’s home state.

Schedule a Consultation with an Attorney

When parents live in different states, child custody cases can become complicated. A family law attorney can assist in navigating the process to protect their client's rights and best interests. They may also help determine jurisdiction or seek emergency orders if a court does not have jurisdiction.

If you’re looking for legal guidance for your case in San Diego, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP at (310) 817-6904.