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Interstate Custody Laws: A Roadmap for Arizona Parents

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Child Support, Custody

When parents separate, the changes can include one or both moving to another state. If minor children are involved, divorce and post-dissolution proceedings can be substantially more stressful and complicated. Child custody disputes add a layer of complexity, and the effect is further magnified when one or more family members have moved out of state. To address these issues more efficiently, Arizona has adopted interstate custody laws and procedures that govern the process.

Understanding the rules that govern interstate custody proceedings can help you better navigate the process, especially when you partner with an experienced Arizona interstate custody lawyer as your guide.

Arizona Interstate Custody Laws: The UCCJEA

As experienced Phoenix divorce attorneys, we can help you understand the difference between separate and community property in Arizona and how that affects the likely division of assets in your divorce. This information will help you make an informed decision on your marriage and work through the process of dividing marital property if and when you decide to separate.

Is Arizona a Community Property State?

Arizona is one of 49 states that have adopted the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act (UCCJEA) to govern interstate custody matters. The UCCJEA defines which state’s court has jurisdiction for issuing and enforcing interstate child custody orders. The purpose of the Act is to create a procedure to help courts cooperate in determining which court should handle custody and parenting time matters and to avoid inconsistent or competing orders issued by courts in different states.

The Arizona UCCJEA, Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 25-1001 et seq., sets out a framework for determining which state’s court has jurisdiction (authority to make decisions in a matter) regarding child custody issues in family law cases. Specifically, the Act explains how to determine which court should handle a custody dispute involving interstate parents seeking an initial custody order, modification, or enforcement of an existing custody order.

Jurisdiction over Child Custody When Parents Live in Different States

The UCCJEA applies when one or more members of the family reside in a different state. It’s not hard to imagine scenarios that might require analysis under the UCCJEA to determine which court should make custody determinations:

  • One parent relocates to another state while a divorce is pending or even before the legal action is filed. The children may remain with the parent who stayed in Arizona or move with the relocating parent to a new state.
  • Both parents move out of Arizona but to different households, either before filing for divorce or after an Arizona divorce is already underway.
  • A parent relocates from another state to Arizona with children in tow, whether or not a divorce proceeding is underway in the other state.
  • A grandparent or other family member has acted as parent to the child while the parent has lived out of state, and then the parent wants the child back.

In each of these cases, at least one parent has some connection to Arizona, but one or both parents and the child also have a connection to another state.

Parties seeking a particular choice of state to handle their custody matter often dispute the appropriate analysis under the UCCJEA or the result of that analysis. You’re best prepared for this battle when you work with an attorney who has substantial experience in interstate custody matters.

Initial Custody Determinations under Interstate Custody Laws

A court that has issued a custody order in a family law matter generally has priority as the appropriate court to continue handling the case’s custody and visitation issues. This continues even after a custody order has been entered. This extension of authority is often referred to as exclusive and continuing jurisdiction.

If there are no existing custody orders or a divorce proceeding isn’t yet pending, the UCCJEA gives authority to the court in the child’s home state. The state where the child has lived with a parent for the preceding six consecutive months before the custody matter arose is considered the home state.

However, an Arizona court also has initial custody jurisdiction when a child has moved out of state, but Arizona was the home state within the preceding six months and a parent still lives in Arizona.

If neither of these scenarios fits the family, then the state in which the child and one or both parents have a significant connection has jurisdiction to enter, modify, and enforce custody orders. Physical presence in the state is not necessarily required. Rather, the connection may be demonstrated by facts such as where the child’s medical or school records are located and where the child has relationships.

The UCCJEA recognizes that, in some cases, the home state or a state with a significant connection may not be the most appropriate forum for handling proceedings for child custody when parents live in different states. For example, consider a family that resided in Arizona for several years before relocating overseas for one parent’s job. If the parents separated while overseas, and both parents returned to the US and settled in separate households in New Mexico, the home state would be Arizona, but that would not be the most appropriate forum. 

Interstate Custody Laws Make Allowances for Emergency Custody Orders

Normally, issues that arise related to child custody when parents live in different states require the parties—and the courts—to go through the analyses described above to determine which court should handle custody and visitation matters going forward. However, in an emergency, a court may issue an order to protect the child. Examples where this might apply include cases involving a child abandoned in a state or a child in danger.

Emergency orders are temporary. In other words, after the entry of an emergency order, the parties must still evaluate which state has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.

Work with Attorneys Who Know Interstate Custody Laws

Disputes about which state has jurisdiction to enter custody orders can be very contentious. Neither party wants to be subjected to significant travel to litigate their custody or visitation issues or to visit their child. After a jurisdictional decision is made, a parent may need to register an out-of-state custody order as a foreign judgment, a process that is also modified by the UCCJEA. Working with an experienced Arizona interstate custody lawyer can be critical to protecting your child and your parental interests.

The Arizona UCCJEA lawyers at Frank Amar Matura have the experience and skills needed to help you successfully navigate interstate custody laws and parenting time disputes. For a consultation to learn how we can help, call today at 602-922-9989 or complete our online contact form.


The information contained in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Reading this information does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. For advice regarding your individual situation, you should consult with an attorney. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established in writing. To schedule a personal consultation, you can contact us at 602-922-9989 or reach us by email at info@famlawaz.com.

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When dealing with a family matter issue, you do not have to go at it alone. Schedule your comprehensive attorney consultation now and we can discuss the entire case.

Let's Discuss Your Case - We're Here For You.

When dealing with a family matter issue, you do not have to go at it alone. Give us a call and we can discuss the entire case during a comprehensive attorney consultation.

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