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Understanding Custody Jurisdiction And The UCCJEA

"UCCJEA" is short for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act . The UCCJEA is the law that spells out the rules for whether a state's courts can legally decide a child custody or placement case for any given child. The UCCJEA also spells out how custody or visitation orders issued by a court in one state can be enforced by the courts of another state. The UCCJEA has been adopted by 49 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

Is the UCCJEA the law in Wisconsin?

Yes. In Wisconsin, the UCCJEA is found at Chapter 822 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Wisconsin's UCCJEA governs whether and how Wisconsin's courts can legally decide the custody or placement of a child. It also governs how custody or visitation orders from other states or countries can be enforced in Wisconsin. Other states' versions of the UCCJEA spell out the same rules for the courts of those states.

What is Custody Jurisdiction?

"Jurisdiction" is the power or right of a court to decide a case and to make orders that can legally be enforced against a particular person or people. One of the most basic questions of law is whether any particular court has jurisdiction to decide any given case. A state court may exercise authority over a case and the parties to that case only to the extent allowed by the Constitution or laws of the state where the court is located.

There are two main types of judicial jurisdiction: Personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction is the power to make orders that will be binding on a specific person, regardless of where that person is located. Subject-matter jurisdiction is the power or right to decide the particular legal question or subject involved in a case. Examples of the legal questions or subjects involved in a case could be patents, bankruptcy, contracts, taxation, or crimes. The power of a court to decide the custody or placement of a child and to issue orders that must be obeyed by the child's parents is a branch of "subject-matter jurisdiction" known as "Custody Jurisdiction".

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What Is A Custody Jurisdiction Dispute
and What Is Involved In Resolving It?

A custody jurisdiction dispute is a legal argument about whether a particular court has the lawful power to make binding decisions and orders concerning the custody or placement of a child. The custody jurisdiction disputes handled by Attorney David A. Blumberg generally deal with whether the courts of Wisconsin have the lawful power and competency to make custody and placement decisions that are sought by one of child's parents or by some other person, like a relative or guardian. Typically, one of the parents will live in Wisconsin, the other parent will live in another state, and the child might live in Wisconsin or in the other state. To better understand what is involved in a custody jurisdiction dispute, it might help to use a sports analogy . . .

An Analogy

Think about a big event, like a sports competition. You and your team want to hold the competition at the stadium in your town, but the other team and its owner want to hold the event at the stadium in their town, which is in another state.

The Teams

Both teams have agreed that they will compete against each other in one big game. You are pretty sure that your team will be better off competing in your own stadium. Your travel costs will be next to nothing, and it will be much easier for your fans to attend the big game. The other team feels the same way about its own stadium. The stakes are pretty high. Neither side wants to give up the prospect of having the home-town advantage. The league has complex rules designed to avoid these home-or-away disputes, but in this special situation the rules leave some room for argument.

Who Decides?

The league's Commissioner will ultimately decide which team will have to travel and which one will have the home-town advantage. You want to be sure that the Commissioner understands why you believe the other team should be traveling to your stadium and why you believe that the league's rules require that outcome. You retain a special site-selection advocate to help persuade the Commissioner to decide in your team's favor, if that is possible.

Attorney Blumberg's Role

The analogy is far from perfect, but it's not too far off the mark. Attorney Blumberg's practice is similar to the role of that special site-selection advocate.
If a custody case involves parents or children who live in different states, there are complex rules that spell out which state's court can hear and decide any particular case. The rules - contained mainly the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") - are pretty complex. Moreover, a great deal depends on where the case is to going to be tried - much more than just forcing one parent to incur the time and expense of traveling to the courthouse in the other parent's town.

Attorney Blumberg will work alongside your lawyer(s) to persuade both state courts that the court in your state should [or possibly should not] be the court that hears and decides your custody case. Once a decision is made about where the case will be tried, Attorney Blumberg's involvement in your case will end. Thus, his work is almost entirely preliminary - being very much like helping your team persuade the league Commissioner which team gets to play at home and which one has to travel. And just as the special site-selection advocate has nothing to do with coaching or preparing your team for the big game, Attorney Blumberg will not become involved in preparing for or handling the actual trial of your custody case. That task is for you and your regular family law attorney. Once Attorney Blumberg has documented the choice of courts and states with appropriate orders, you and your lawyer - not Attorney Blumberg - will then take over the merits of your custody litigation, prepare your case for trial, and conduct the trial itself.

Saying it a little differently, Attorney Blumberg's role in a custody jurisdiction dispute will usually be either:

  1. To support the prosecution of a child custody case in the State of Wisconsin by persuading the court that the courts of Wisconsin have jurisdiction to try and to decide the case, or
  2. To oppose the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Courts to decide the child custody case on the grounds that another state or country either has or should have jurisdiction to decide the case.

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Why do I need an expert on custody jurisdiction law to help my lawyer represent me?
Aren't the jurisdiction rules pretty straightforward and easy to apply?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act has only been in force in Wisconsin since 2006. It contains well over 7000 words in 39 separate sections, many of which interrelate with each other in complicated ways. Most judges and most lawyers see very few interstate custody cases. As a result, few ever need to become familiar with the special rules that spell out how to decide which state has jurisdiction to entertain and to decide a custody case. Wisconsin's appellate courts have decided fewer than five cases involving the UCCJEA since it was enacted. Even though the folks on the commission that wrote the UCCJEA tried to make it easy to understand and to apply, they were only partly successful. The truth is that very few otherwise capable family law attorneys and very few family court judges have much experience in handling jurisdictional disputes in interstate custody cases. Thus, few lawyers and fewer judges have had an opportunity to develop a solid understanding of how the UCCJEA works and how it will apply in any particular case. That's why it makes sense to call on a lawyer who is recognized as a leading authority on the UCCJEA to explain to the court how and why the UCCJEA requires a particular jurisdictional decision in your case.

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For answers to other questions click on any of the following links:
More FAQs About Jurisdiction Cases About Enforcement Cases FAQs for Attorneys

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The Law Office of David A. Blumberg
1860 W. Woodbury Lane
Glendale, WI 53209
Phone: 414-815-0447
Toll Free: 877-9-UCCJEA
Fax: 414-228-8911