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History behind enacting Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act


Before the enactment of Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act in 1968 (UCCJA), it was a common practice by Virginia non-custodial parent to abduct their children and flee to a different state. These parents hoped that the judiciary in that state would be more sympathetic to their cause and grant them custody of their child. Unfortunately, these tactics were quite successful.

In order to prevent such abductions by non-custodial parents, UCCJA was enacted and was adopted by every state by the end of 1981. The UCCJA establishes jurisdiction of courts in one state over a child custody case and prevents other courts from issuing judgments in that case until the original court hands over the case. It was thought that if the courts of another state could not modify a child custody order in favor of the non-custodial parent, it will discourage them from running away with the child.

In 1981, the Parents' Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) was also enacted with the same objective in mind. Thought the objectives of both UCCJA and PKPA are same, they differ fundamentally on two grounds. First, unlike UCCJA, PKPA prioritizes the home state's jurisdiction in matters related to child custody. Also, under PKPA, the state retains priority until every person involved in the dispute has left the state.

The UCCJA and PKPA exist and are enforced simultaneously, but the jurisdiction provisions of these two acts sometimes collide, making it difficult to adjudicate certain child custody disputes. In addition, neither of these acts addresses the issue of interstate enforcement of child custody orders. Uniform Interstate Family Support Act was enacted to provide a more effective method for enforcing child support orders across states.

The UCCJA was replaced by Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in 1997 (UCCJEA). This act reunites the principles laid down in UCCJA and PKPA and addresses the concerns left unattended under these two acts. It also provides for civil enforcement of child custody orders across states. Therefore, the main reason to enact UCCJEA was to consolidate the laws on jurisdiction over child custody disputes and add provisions in areas which were not addressed by the previous two enactments.

Source: UniformLaws.org, "Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Summary," accessed on March 12, 2015

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