What is the UCCJEA in California (Irvine)?


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The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a set of laws adopted by the California Legislature at Sections 3400-3465 of the Family Code that generally governs:

  • When California family courts can make initial child custody and visitation orders;
  • When California courts can modify another state’s or country’s orders pertaining to child custody and visitation;
  • Registration of child custody orders from other states and countries;
  • Determination of which state should have the power to make custody and visitation orders when more than one state may have the authority to do so;
  • When California courts have the authority to issue temporary emergency orders concerning child custody and visitation, even though California may not have the authority to make an initial order or modify an existing order from another state; and
  • When California courts may enforce custody orders from other states and countries.

The UCCJEA was initially drafted to serve as “model rules” for states to adopt to ensure consistency with how each state handles child custody and visitation cases where multiple jurisdictions are involved due to the parents living in separate states or countries, due to parents moving between states and countries, and where children do not remain in the same state in which they were born.  The drafters of the UCCJEA were trying to avoid a situation where multiple states were applying different rules and laws and fighting over which state has the power to make a custody order concerning a particular child.  Every state except Massachusetts adopted the UCCJEA as state law (and the law may soon change in Massachusetts to adopt the UCCJEA).

In short, the UCCJEA helps California residents, parents that recently arrived in California, and out of state parents to understand a clear set of rules determining whether California courts can make any orders with respect to child custody and visitation for a particular family.

The UCCJEA is broken into several sections, including:

  • Family Code Sections 3400-3412: These are the general provisions including definitions.  Here are some of the highlights:
    • Section 3405 states that orders from foreign nations which laws are substantially similar to the UCCJEA will be treated like an order from any of the United States (which must be recognized under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution).
    • Section 3407 states that UCCJEA matters are to be given priority on a Family Court calendar.
    • Section 3410 authorizes the California family courts to communicate directly with the courts in another jurisdiction when the question arises as to which court should assert jurisdiction (i.e. power) to hear a particular custody matter.
    • Section 3411 allows the court wide authority to obtain evidence in the case.  For example, the court can order that children and other witnesses may testify by telephone, or depositions may be taken of individuals residing outside the state by video, audio recording, etc.
    • Section 3412 provides authority for California courts to request that other courts entertain an evidentiary hearing, etc.
  • Family Code Sections 3421-3430:  These are the sections that provide the “jurisdictional” rules for when the California court may exercise initial power to make a custody order or modify an existing order from another state.  Here are some of the highlights:
    • Section 3421 defines when California courts have the power to determine an initial custody order.  The main term used in this section is called the home state.  When California is the home state of a child the court in California will have the power to make a custody order if there is no other court order in existence.  The term “home state” generally refers to where a child has been living for the past 6 months (or where the child was born if they are less than 6 months old).
    • Section 3422 defines when a California court will have the ability to modify its own orders.
    • Section 3423 defines when a California court will have the ability to modify another state’s custody and/or visitation orders.
    • Section 3424 details when a California court will have temporary emergency jurisdiction to make custody and visitation orders even if the court does not have the power to make an initial custody order under Family Code 3421 or to modify an existing order under Family Code 3422 or 3423.
    • Section 3427 states that a California court can decline to take authority over a case in certain circumstances, even if California has jurisdiction to make custody orders.
    • Section 3428 is an interesting Section that states that parents seeking California court orders for custody and visitation that have engaged in “unjustifiable conduct” (i.e. taking and withholding a child) may be turned way by the California court even if technically the court has the jurisdiction to make custody orders.
  • Family Code Sections 3441-3457:  These are the sections that provide the court with “enforcement” powers, to enforce court orders made in other states or countries.  Here are some of the highlights:
    • Section 3443 says that California must enforce orders from other countries when the country’s law are substantially similar to the jurisdictional law here in California.
    • Section 3444 states that California may issue an order simply enforcing the orders of another state.
    • Section 3445 sets forth the provisions relating to registering an “out of state” custody order in California for purposes of enforcement of modification.  Registered orders are filed with the court, served on the opposing party, and then will become “enforceable” if no objection is filed within 20 days.  If an objection is filed, the court will then determine whether it has jurisdiction to enforce or modify a foreign order.
    • Section 3451 allows a petitioner to request the court issue a warrant for the petitioner to have immediate physical custody over a child.
    • Section 3452 allows for payment of certain expenses to the prevailing party in the UCCJEA dispute.

For additional information about child custody and visitation, move away cases, or to learn more about our successful handling of UCCJEA cases and other custody matters, contact our office today.