When Custody and Support Jurisdictions Differ
In order to file for custody and visitation in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth must have jurisdiction over your case. Similarly, to file for child support in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth must have jurisdiction over your support issues. If you are a non-custodial parent in Massachusetts and your child has moved out of state, this can become complicated. The Massachusetts Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (“MCCJA”) is an antiquated custody jurisdiction statute and incompatible with the law governing interstate support jurisdiction, Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”). Because of this,you could end up litigating custody and support in two different states.
Under the MCCJA, Massachusetts can assert jurisdiction over your custody case if Massachusetts is the child’s home state. One option to determine home state status requires that the child has resided with a parent for at least 6 consecutive months before the start of the legal action (M.G.L. c. 209B, § 2(a)(i); M.G.L. c. 209B, § 1). [See our article for a more in-depth explanation, and more ways Massachusetts can assert jurisdiction in custody cases]. If after you establish jurisdiction and obtain a custody order from a Massachusetts court and your child and the custodial parent move out of state, then Massachusetts only retains jurisdiction over your custody case for 6 months after your child leaves the state to establish a new home state (M.G.L. c. 209B, § 2(a)(1)(ii)). When this happens, the child’s new home state (a state in which they have resided for 6 months preceding the legal action) now has jurisdiction over your custody case. The MCCJA was written this way to prevent jurisdiction from permanently lodging with the state where the original custody ruling was made, potentially long after the child has any relevant contact with the state. While on its own, this is a reasonable approach to custody jurisdiction, it gets very complicated when considered in light of child support jurisdiction laws.
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) governs the jurisdiction of support issues and has been adopted in all 50 states. Under UIFSA, the state where the original support ruling was made maintains jurisdiction over your support issues as long as one parent remains in the state, even after your child leaves the state and establishes a new “home state” (M.G.L. c. 209D, art.2 § 2-205). Therefore, if your child moves out of Massachusetts and establishes a new home state for more than 6 months and you continue to reside in Massachusetts,then you could end up litigating changes to child support in Massachusetts under UIFSA and changes to custody/visitation in your child’s new home state under MCCJA.
So, if you are a non-custodial parent whose child is moving out of state, or a custodial parent moving out of state with your child, you should contact an experienced Massachusetts child custody and support attorney immediately.