When any child custody case comes before a judge, the court must first determine proper jurisdiction over the child under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. The Act applies equally to all minor children, whether they are from a military family or not. However, the UCCJEA can become very difficult to navigate when a child moves between states often, as a child of a military member does. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how the UCCJEA can affect a child custody dispute regarding a military child. If you are entering a child custody dispute as a military member or your partner is a military member, ensure that you are properly advised and represented by an experienced attorney.
The first step in any child custody action is determining if the court has proper jurisdiction over the action. When the case involves children, the court in Florida looks to the UCCJEA, adopted into Florida law under Florida Statutes 61.501- 61.542. The UCCJEA sets out a uniform standard for courts to determine where the proper place is for a case involving a child custody determination. With this uniform standard, there is a removal of courts working against one another and instead encourages collaborative approaches to determine the best interest of the child by deciding proper jurisdiction. However, these rules can become complicated when the child has been relocated multiple times throughout their life, the prime examples are military children.
In order for Florida courts to obtain initial jurisdiction independently under this act they must be either 1) the home state of the child at the time of the suit or 2) been the child's home state within 6 months prior to filing the action with a parent still residing within the state of Florida.
The state that is given the most power over a child is the one deemed to be the child’s “home state.” A home state is generally defined as the state in which the child has lived with a parent for 6 months immediately prior to filing an action. However, it is not uncommon for military members or their spouses who are contemplating divorce to move. For instance, the military member might have been recently stationed to a new base in Florida and then decide to initiate a divorce or child custody action. Or in other cases, a military member is deployed and the spouse relocates to Florida to be closer to family and then initiates an action. In either of these cases, it is unlikely Florida, where they have relocated to, will be deemed the home state of the child. However, Florida may still assert jurisdiction over the child in certain cases. If the home state declines to exercise jurisdiction, finding Florida to be a more suitable place for the case to be determined, Florida may exercise jurisdiction. However, it must be proven that the child has significant connections with the state and substantial evidence concerning the child is within the State of Florida and it is in the best interest of the child to have the case handled here. However, if the home state of the child does determine more evidence of the child’s care and wellbeing is found within their state, Florida will have to decline the case and it must then be brought before the home state court.
A court’s jurisdiction over a child in a child custody case can be easily determined if the child has remained in the same location for the duration of their life. However, children of military members generally do not have that luxury, which can cause a jurisdictional issue between courts under the UCCJEA. Therefore, in order to protect your rights and the rights of your child, employ a knowledgeable lawyer Attorney whose vast experience with military families will pay dividends in your case.
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