If I Moved To DC From Another State, Which State Should I File For Child Custody?

child playing in moving boxes

The answer depends on how long the child/children have lived in the District of Columbia and whether a divorce/custody case has already been filed in another State. The basic rule is that once a child lives in a State for at least six months, then that State (or D.C.) becomes the place of residence for the child. Where the child/children LIVE is where a parent should file a legal case to obtain custody. This is legally called “jurisdiction.” The State (or D.C.) with jurisdiction to hear a child custody case is the State (or D.C.) where the child lives.

The D.C. and Maryland child custody and visitation attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl explain more on this topic below.

Let’s take an example. Suppose a couple has a child and has lived in Maryland. Further, let’s assume that the child was born in Maryland, has always lived in Maryland, and is now ten years old. In this example, the child has been living in Maryland, and thus, any divorce/custody case must be filed in Maryland. Maryland has jurisdiction.

Now, suppose the parents move to D.C. The child custody case MUST be filed in Maryland for the first six months after the relocation to D.C. After six months have elapsed, the child custody case MUST be filed in D.C. D.C. now has jurisdiction.

However, let’s change the hypothetical. Assume that one parent filed a child custody case in Maryland at the three-month mark after the relocation. Because, legally, Maryland still had jurisdiction, that case would be correctly filed. As such, a case later filed in D.C. would be invalid and would be dismissed.

Why? The reason is that both Maryland and D.C. have enacted a statute called the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). The UCCJEA is a statute that has uniformly been adopted in all 50 States and in D.C. Being “uniform” means that each State (and D.C.) have enacted the statute in the same form. In effect, this means that each State (and D.C.) all agree with the principles and legal obligations of the uniform statute.

Among other things, the UCCJEA establishes a uniform legal rule across the country about WHERE a child custody case is to be originally filed. As stated above, the rule is that the jurisdiction for a child custody case exists in the State (or D.C.) where the child lives. And that is determined by how long the child has lived in a State (or D.C.). The UCCJEA legal principle has many advantages, including the fact that the rule is “easy” to apply, prevents parents from “forum-shopping,” and resolves any dispute between courts in different States. If one parent files for custody in D.C. and the other files in Maryland, both sets of courts apply the UCCJEA. Both sets of courts ask the same factual question — where has the child lived for the last six months on the date that the custody case was filed? When that question is answered, one case is dismissed while the other case proceeds.

Note that the above legal principles apply to the FIRST child custody case. After one court has issued a child custody Order, then, generally, subsequent custody cases or questions related to that child are filed in that jurisdiction. However, over time – particularly if the parents are in agreement – as the child spends more time in a new State, under the UCCJEA, that State can obtain jurisdiction to modify custody Orders issued in a sister State.

Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys

Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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