Disputes over child custody in a divorce or between unmarried parents can lead to highly contentious and emotionally charged conflicts. The final determination regarding custody is also a complex one, given the many subjective factors applied by the court in such decisions. In some child custody cases, matters are complicated further because the parents and children involved are spread out over two or more states.
Jurisdiction over Interstate Child Custody Disputes
The difficulty of an child custody dispute involving two states (“interstate”) stems from the question of which state has jurisdiction over the case. Generally speaking, a child must live in Minnesota with one or both parents for six continuous months leading up to the commencement of the case in order for a court in this state to have jurisdiction.
Determining the Child’s Home State
The particular rules of child custody jurisdiction are spelled out in Minnesota’s version of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA provides that a state has jurisdiction when it is the child’s “home state.” This is defined as “the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding.” For children less than six months old, the home state is where they have lived since birth.
Jurisdiction in a particular state is also appropriate if that state was the home state of the child less than six months prior to the commencement of the case and at least one parent still lives in the state.
For example, consider a married couple who have children in Wisconsin. After five years, the whole family moves to Minnesota where they live for the next two years. The parents then separate and the father takes the children to live in Iowa. Three months later, a child custody case is filed. Under these circumstances, Minnesota would have jurisdiction, because it was the children’s home state within the last six months.
The Minnesota statute has additional provisions regarding jurisdiction of child custody disputes when the “home state” rule does not apply. For example, when there is no home state (or the home state of the child declines jurisdiction for some reason), a court in Minnesota may decide custody if the child and at least one parent have a “significant connection” to the state and there is substantial evidence in the state that is relevant to the custody determination.
Minnesota courts may also retain jurisdiction when all other states have declined jurisdiction on the basis that Minnesota is the most appropriate location for the case.
Alternatively, a court in Minnesota can decline jurisdiction over a child custody dispute if it determines that hearing the case in this state is inconvenient and that another state would be a more appropriate location.