The Portland Metro area may technically end at the Columbia River, but in reality “Portland” stretches into Southwest Washington, and Southwest Washington stretches into Portland. This overlap has given the area the congenial moniker “Port-Couver,” and often leads to jurisdictional questions in family law disputes. In other words, which state’s laws will be applied to the facts of a given situation.
Historically, answering these types of jurisdictional questions has often involved extensive, costly, and unpredictable litigation. However, over the past 50 years, the United States legal system has developed more adequate legal mechanisms to resolve jurisdictional disputes regarding property and even the parties themselves. The most recent and effective effort has been the promotion of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which has now been adopted by at least 49 states, including Oregon and Washington.
The UCCJEA, at long last, provides consistent and simple guidelines to be applied by all courts when making child custody determinations. The UCCJEA states that jurisdiction to make child custody determinations should be established by answering the following questions one by one. If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then there is jurisdiction:
- Has the child in question lived in the state for six continuous months prior to the commencement of the proceeding?
- If the child has been out of state for six months, does the filing parent still live in the state where the child also lived for six continuous months?
- Does the child have “significant connections” to the state where the action was filed?
- Is there substantial available evidence concerning the child’s care in the state where the action is filed?
- Finally, if the answer to all of these questions is “no,” then jurisdiction will be determined based on which state is the most “convenient forum” to take the case.
Knowing this information is beneficial to anyone with a child who may be contemplating a cross-state separation or divorce. Of course, the issues are never as simple as they seem and any questions or concerns should be addressed with an attorney.