A recent story in London's The Telegraph detailed how the rise of internet dating had resulted in a 40 percent spike in 2012 in the number of international child custody cases in Britain.
Our Gary child custody lawyers have noted this phenomenon as well, though more commonly with regard to interstate disputes.
Internet dating has allowed people who might never have otherwise met or come in contact to form deep connections over long distances. However, people often retain their connections to home, even if they end up later moving to be with their new spouse.
If things don't work out, one spouse or the other will often return to where he or she has a support system.
But it should be no surprise that different states have different laws when it comes to almost everything about divorce and child custody.
Families in these situations often find themselves grappling with the added frustration of working out complicated and costly visitations and shared parenting arrangements. Even those divorced couples who consider themselves fairly amicable can find themselves at a breaking point when trying to hammer out these issues long-distance and often without the benefit of face-to-face communication.
So how are these disputes resolved?
A lot of it will depend on which state is given jurisdiction in the matter.
For an answer to how that process works, we look to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which was drafted in 1997 and has since been adopted by 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. (The only state that has yet to adopt the measure is Massachusetts.) The 1997 legislation replaces any prior legislation, which was found to be inconsistent with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act with regard to determination of initial child custody.
Part of the reason this legislation was enacted was because courts were finding that parents were willing to move their child around from state-to-state if it appeared the custody case were not going in their favor. They would then file again in a different state, where they hoped to find a more sympathetic ear. They were often successful.
But this was not fair to the child, nor the other parent or the court system, which was being bogged down with these cases.
In interstate custody battles, the child's home state will be the one that will be allowed to exercise jurisdiction in the child custody case.
So if a mother files her petition for custody in Indiana, where the child lives at the time of the petition, any other state is going to lack jurisdiction to handle that same case. Let's say that same mother and child move to Ohio, and then she files her petition within less than six months of that move. The home state is still going to be considered Indiana, and she will have to file her petition here, or else wait six months or more.
Because of the UCCJA, this will be true pretty much regardless of where you move in the U.S.
In one case, for example, both spouses lived in Texas for a number of years until the mother moved to Washington State. She filed her child custody petition there five months later, but it was denied because she hadn't lived there at least six months. The father then filed his custody petition more than six months after his wife and child had moved to Washington. The court ruled that Texas would not be considered the home state of the child at that point, because he hadn't lived in Texas for six consecutive months prior to the petition.
As you can see, timing may be critical in these cases, which is why the sooner you meet with a child custody lawyer, the more strategic you can be in planning your petition and/or response.
It's also worth noting that the state can deny jurisdiction if one parent or the other has acted unjustly. Some examples might be domestic violence, concealing the whereabouts of a child/parental kidnapping, violating an existing court order or lying in sworn declarations.
Now let's say it turns out there is no home state for the child. He or she has lived on a military base or has moved around a great deal in the last several years. In these cases, the court will be charged with determining the state that will be the most convenient for all parties involved. Some of the things that might be considered would be location of medical and school records, witnesses, documents, child protective services investigative reports and how familiar each court may be with the issues and facts in the pending case.