Child Custody Jurisdiction &
Enforcement Act

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

On January 1, 2003, legislation that significantly modified the way courts treat child custody disputes between two competing states went into effect. The new act, known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is found in Section 583A of the Hawaii Revised Statutes. It repealed the previously controlling Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). Prior to the passage of this new act, one would have to look to federal legislation, specifically the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), together with the previous version of the UCCJA for guidance in resolving the key issues as to exactly which state had the most proper claim to jurisdiction in order to determine inter-state child custody disputes.

The new UCCJEA now includes specific language which parallels the PKPA. In fact, the UCCJEA now clearly delineates the roles that the office of the Attorney General, the Prosecuting Attorney and law enforcement personnel may play in recovery of children. Furthermore, the new law specifically allows a warrant to be issued to take physical custody of a child.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act has now been adopted by all the States, and applies to all child custody proceedings except adoption proceedings or proceedings pertaining to the authorization of emergency medical care of the child.

Initial Child Custody Determination: Hawaii’s Family Court has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if Hawaii has been the “home state” of the child. The term “home state” is defined for these purposes to mean where the child has resided during the last six (6) months, as of the date the action is started. However, a Hawaii family court might still have jurisdiction, even if Hawaii is not the child’s home state, if other provisions of the law are deemed applicable. Once a family court in Hawaii makes a child custody determination, Hawaii has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify or enforce the order, so long as either one of the parties or the child continues to reside in the state.

However, a family court in Hawaii may refuse to exercise jurisdiction to enter child custody orders if it finds that Hawaii is an inconvenient forum under the circumstances and that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum. A family court in Hawaii, which does not have jurisdiction to modify a child custody determination, may still issue a temporary order enforcing visitation.

Modification of Child Custody Orders: A Hawaii family court judge may not modify a foreign child custody order unless Hawaii has jurisdiction to make an initial determination; and the court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction; or a determination is made that no one resides in the state which previously entered child custody orders. However, a family court judge in Hawaii may invoke temporary emergency jurisdiction if it finds the child is present in Hawaii and the child has been abandoned, or if the child or sibling or parent is subjected to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse.

Under the current legislation, the courts of different states may communicate with each other in order to sort out these situations. In fact, if there are simultaneous proceedings ongoing in two separate states, then those state courts are required to communicate with each other.

The family court requires that information be submitted to the court which includes information about the child’s residence, names and addresses of persons in the child’s residence; any current or pending litigation involving the child. Clearly it is imperative that all facts the parties wish to have made known to the court are provided immediately since this may affect the ultimate outcome of the child custody jurisdiction determination.

In the event you find yourself in a situation where child custody is an issue and more than one state is involved, you should immediately consult with an attorney who is skilled and knowledgeable in this area.

The bottom line: Interstate custody cases are way too tricky an area of the law for any party to try and handle on their own – call a custody lawyer immediately.

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 20 years.  He has been selected as Honolulu's Best Divorce Lawyer and is the founder of Coates & Frey, Hawaii's largest family law firm. This article contains only "general" information and readers should not take any actions based on the "summarized" information contained herein.  Instead, appropriate experts should be consulted for each individual's case and/or fact situation.  Phone: 524-4854 or visit the firm's website at