Governor DeSantis just signed into law a provision that will impact many child custody issues that have traditionally been handled by the Florida court system. Specifically, child custody cases that span multiple states. The law that was changed is little known outside the community of legal practitioners. Likewise, the new law that is now effective is little known and did not receive the attention and publicity it warrants.
The Governor just signed a major change to a Florida Statute called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA is a long-standing law in Florida and is known as a “uniform statute.” It gets that label from the fact that most, if not all states in the US have adopted the UCCJEA is substantially identical form to all other states. (See the box at the end of this article for an in-depth explanation of the UCCJEA. In short, the UCCJEA exists in every single state and acts as a rule book for determining which state has the final say on issues concerning minor children in the context of a family law case. The same law also affects adoptions, paternity lawsuits, and cases where children are removed from their homes by child protective services.
The UCCJEA is a Florida law that provides clarity on which court, in which state has the final say-so on children’s issues.
Many people over the age of 50 have heard tales from many years ago where one parent disappeared with a child, ended up in another state, and was able to obtain a court order for temporary or permanent custody. In the past that situation was a common problem because there were no laws that governed that specific type of situation. It was an unjust situation and the advantage went to the parent that acted rapidly and many times unfairly.
Then came the national implementation of the UCCJEA (originally the UCCJA). It brought clarity, predictability, and fairness to the process. A mostly common sense set of rules informed attorneys, parents, and judges on where the proper court was to file cases, to seek changes to parenting rights, and to seek redress for wrongful actions. With some exceptions, the system seems to work.
The Recent Change to Florida’s UCCJEA Law
The new law inserts a key provision that is woven throughout the law governing which state has jurisdiction over children, even if another state was already, rightfully in the process of deciding a parenting case. In basic terms, the change allows the following:
Here is an excerpt from the new law:
(2) A court of this state has jurisdiction to vacate, stay, or modify a child custody determination of a court of another state to protect the child from the risk of being subjected to the provision of sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures as defined in s. 456.001. The court must vacate, stay, or modify the child custody determination to the extent necessary to protect the child from the provision of such prescriptions or procedures.
Benefits and Problems Caused by the New Law
The new law goes a long way to prevent or slow down situations where one parent desires to help their child with a gender reassignment and the other parent disagrees.
But where most states previously cooperated with either other on where the determination of authority resides in a particular court, the new law threatens to set up a battle between various state courts.
There is also a high probability this law may trigger similar action by other states. The UCCJEA was once a uniform law. Now there will be an incentive for states to inject their political viewpoints into that law. The end result will be to create a web of inconsistent and competing laws across the country.
An Explanation of the UCCJEA
The UCCJEA, which stands for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, is a law that has been adopted by almost all U.S. states to address child custody and visitation issues in cases involving multiple jurisdictions. The primary benefit of the UCCJEA is to provide a clear and consistent framework for determining which state has jurisdiction over child custody matters and to ensure the enforcement of custody orders across state lines. Here are some key benefits of the UCCJEA:
1 Jurisdictional clarity: The UCCJEA establishes specific criteria for determining which state has jurisdiction to make initial custody determinations. It aims to prevent conflicting custody orders issued by different states and promotes a uniform approach to jurisdictional issues. This clarity helps avoid jurisdictional disputes and provides a clear legal framework for resolving custody disputes.
2 Child’s best interests: The UCCJEA places a strong emphasis on considering the best interests of the child when making custody determinations. It requires courts to consider various factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, their preferences if they are of sufficient age and maturity, and the child’s adjustment to their current environment. By prioritizing the child’s well-being, the UCCJEA aims to ensure that custody decisions are made in their best interests.
3 Cooperation among states: The UCCJEA promotes cooperation among states in matters related to child custody. It encourages communication and information-sharing between courts in different jurisdictions, facilitating the exchange of relevant information and evidence for making informed decisions. This cooperation helps ensure that custody orders are recognized and enforced consistently across state lines.
4 Enforcement of custody orders: One of the significant benefits of the UCCJEA is its provisions for the enforcement of custody orders across different states. If a parent violates a custody order issued in one state and flees to another, the UCCJEA allows the custodial parent to seek enforcement of the order in the new state. The act provides mechanisms for registering and enforcing out-of-state custody orders, ensuring that they have legal validity and can be enforced effectively.
5 Stability and predictability: The UCCJEA aims to provide stability and predictability in custody matters by discouraging forum shopping and preventing conflicting custody orders. By establishing clear rules for determining jurisdiction and enforcing custody orders, it reduces uncertainty and promotes consistent outcomes. This stability is crucial for both parents and children, as it helps create a more secure environment for the child and facilitates effective co-parenting.
Overall, the UCCJEA offers numerous benefits by establishing a consistent and effective legal framework for resolving child custody disputes involving multiple jurisdictions. It promotes the best interests of the child, encourages cooperation among states, and ensures the enforcement of custody orders across state lines, providing clarity, stability, and protection for families involved in these sensitive matters.