Michigan’s Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
With official commentary from the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws
Table of Contents
UNIFORM CHILD-CUSTODY JURISDICTION AND ENFORCEMENT ACT
Act 195 of 2001
AN ACT to adopt the uniform child-custody jurisdiction and enforcement act prescribing the powers and duties of the court in a child-custody proceeding involving this state and a proceeding or party outside of this state; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.
History: 2001, Act 195, Eff. Apr. 1, 2002
This Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), revisits the problem of the interstate child almost thirty years after the Conference promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). The UCCJEA accomplishes two major purposes.
First, it revises the law on child custody jurisdiction in light of federal enactments and almost thirty years of inconsistent case law. Article 2 of this Act provides clearer standards for which States can exercise original jurisdiction over a child custody determination. It also, for the first time, enunciates a standard of continuing jurisdiction and clarifies modification jurisdiction. Other aspects of the article harmonize the law on simultaneous proceedings, clean hands, and forum non conveniens.
Second, this Act provides in Article 3 for a remedial process to enforce interstate child custody and visitation determinations. In doing so, it brings a uniform procedure to the law of interstate enforcement that is currently producing inconsistent results. In many respects, this Act accomplishes for custody and visitation determinations the same uniformity that has occurred in interstate child support with the promulgation of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).
The UCCJA was adopted as law in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands. A number of adoptions, however, significantly departed from the original text. In addition, almost thirty years of litigation since the promulgation of the UCCJA produced substantial inconsistency in interpretation by state courts. As a result, the goals of the UCCJA were rendered unobtainable in many cases.
In 1980, the federal government enacted the Parental Kidnaping Prevention Act (PKPA), 28 U.S.C. § 1738A, to address the interstate custody jurisdictional problems that continued to exist after the adoption of the UCCJA. The PKPA mandates that state authorities give full faith and credit to other states’ custody determinations, so long as those determinations were made in conformity with the provisions of the PKPA. The PKPA provisions regarding bases for jurisdiction, restrictions on modifications, preclusion of simultaneous proceedings, and notice requirements are similar to those in the UCCJA. There are, however, some significant differences. For example, the PKPA authorizes continuing exclusive jurisdiction in the original decree State so long as one parent or the child remains there and that State has continuing jurisdiction under its own law. The UCCJA did not directly address this issue. To further complicate the process, the PKPA partially incorporates state UCCJA law in its language. The relationship between these two statutes became “technical enough to delight a medieval property lawyer.” Homer H. Clark, Domestic Relations § 12.5 at 494 (2d ed. 1988).
As documented in an extensive study by the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law, Obstacles to the Recovery and Return of Parentally Abducted Children (1993) (Obstacles Study), inconsistency of interpretation of the UCCJA and the technicalities of applying the PKPA, resulted in a loss of uniformity among the States. The Obstacles Study suggested a number of amendments which would eliminate the inconsistent state interpretations and harmonize the UCCJA with the PKPA.
The revisions of the jurisdictional aspects of the UCCJA eliminate the inconsistent state interpretations and can be summarized as follows:
- Home state priority. The PKPA prioritizes “home state” jurisdiction by requiring that full faith and credit cannot be given to a child custody determination by a State that exercises initial jurisdiction as a “significant connection state” when there is a “home State.” Initial custody determinations based on “significant connections” are not entitled to PKPA enforcement unless there is no home State. The UCCJA, however, specifically authorizes four independent bases of jurisdiction without prioritization. Under the UCCJA, a significant connection custody determination may have to be enforced even if it would be denied enforcement under the PKPA. The UCCJEA prioritizes home state jurisdiction in Section 201.
- Clarification of emergency jurisdiction. There are several problems with the current emergency jurisdiction provision of the UCCJA § 3(a)(3). First, the language of the UCCJA does not specify that emergency jurisdiction may be exercised only to protect the child on a temporary basis until the court with appropriate jurisdiction issues a permanent order. Some courts have interpreted the UCCJA language to so provide. Other courts, however, have held that there is no time limit on a custody determination based on emergency jurisdiction. Simultaneous proceedings and conflicting custody orders have resulted from these different interpretations.Second, the emergency jurisdiction provisions predated the widespread enactment of state domestic violence statutes. Those statutes are often invoked to keep one parent away from the other parent and the children when there is a threat of violence. Whether these situations are sufficient to invoke the emergency jurisdiction provision of the UCCJA has been the subject of some confusion since the emergency jurisdiction provision does not specifically refer to violence directed against the parent of the child or against a sibling of the child.The UCCJEA contains a separate section on emergency jurisdiction at Section 204 which addresses these issues.
- Exclusive continuing jurisdiction for the State that entered the decree. The failure of the UCCJA to clearly enunciate that the decree-granting State retains exclusive continuing jurisdiction to modify a decree has resulted in two major problems. First, different interpretations of the UCCJA on continuing jurisdiction have produced conflicting custody decrees. States also have different interpretations as to how long continuing jurisdiction lasts. Some courts have held that modification jurisdiction continues until the last contestant leaves the State, regardless of how many years the child has lived outside the State or how tenuous the child’s connections to the State have become. Other courts have held that continuing modification jurisdiction ends as soon as the child has established a new home State, regardless of how significant the child’s connections to the decree State remain. Still other States distinguish between custody orders and visitation orders. This divergence of views leads to simultaneous proceedings and conflicting custody orders.The second problem arises when it is necessary to determine whether the State with continuing jurisdiction has relinquished it. There should be a clear basis to determine when that court has relinquished jurisdiction. The UCCJA provided no guidance on this issue. The ambiguity regarding whether a court has declined jurisdiction can result in one court improperly exercising jurisdiction because it erroneously believes that the other court has declined jurisdiction. This caused simultaneous proceedings and conflicting custody orders. In addition, some courts have declined jurisdiction after only informal contact between courts with no opportunity for the parties to be heard. This raised significant due process concerns. The UCCJEA addresses these issues in Sections 110, 202, and 206.
- Specification of what custody proceedings are covered. The definition of custody proceeding in the UCCJA is ambiguous. States have rendered conflicting decisions regarding certain types of proceedings. There is no general agreement on whether the UCCJA applies to neglect, abuse, dependency, wardship, guardianship, termination of parental rights, and protection from domestic violence proceedings. The UCCJEA includes a sweeping definition that, with the exception of adoption, includes virtually all cases that can involve custody of or visitation with a child as a “custody determination.”
- Role of “Best Interests.” The jurisdictional scheme of the UCCJA was designed to promote the best interests of the children whose custody was at issue by discouraging parental abduction and providing that, in general, the State with the closest connections to, and the most evidence regarding, a child should decide that child’s custody. The “best interest” language in the jurisdictional sections of the UCCJA was not intended to be an invitation to address the merits of the custody dispute in the jurisdictional determination or to otherwise provide that “best interests” considerations should override jurisdictional determinations or provide an additional jurisdictional basis.The UCCJEA eliminates the term “best interests” in order to clearly distinguish between the jurisdictional standards and the substantive standards relating to custody and visitation of children.
- Other Changes. This draft also makes a number of additional amendments to the UCCJA. Many of these changes were made to harmonize the provisions of this Act with those of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. One of the policy bases underlying this Act is to make uniform the law of interstate family proceedings to the extent possible, given the very different jurisdictional foundations. It simplifies the life of the family law practitioner when the same or similar provisions are found in both Acts.
One of the major purposes of the revision of the UCCJA was to provide a remedy for interstate visitation and custody cases. As with child support, state borders have become one of the biggest obstacles to enforcement of custody and visitation orders. If either parent leaves the State where the custody determination was made, the other parent faces considerable difficulty in enforcing the visitation and custody provisions of the decree. Locating the child, making service of process, and preventing adverse modification in a new forum all present problems.
There is currently no uniform method of enforcing custody and visitation orders validly entered in another State. As documented by the Obstacles Study, despite the fact that both the UCCJA and the PKPA direct the enforcement of visitation and custody orders entered in accordance with mandated jurisdictional prerequisites and due process, neither act provides enforcement procedures or remedies.
As the Obstacles Study pointed out, the lack of specificity in enforcement procedures has resulted in the law of enforcement evolving differently in different jurisdictions. In one State, it might be common practice to file a Motion to Enforce or a Motion to Grant Full Faith and Credit to initiate an enforcement proceeding. In another State, a Writ of Habeas Corpus or a Citation for Contempt might be commonly used. In some States, Mandamus and Prohibition also may be utilized. All of these enforcement procedures differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While many States tend to limit considerations in enforcement proceedings to whether the court which issued the decree had jurisdiction to make the custody determination, others broaden the considerations to scrutiny of whether enforcement would be in the best interests of the child.
Lack of uniformity complicates the enforcement process in several ways: (1) It increases the costs of the enforcement action in part because the services of more than one lawyer may be required – one in the original forum and one in the State where enforcement is sought; (2) It decreases the certainty of outcome; (3) It can turn enforcement into a long and drawn out procedure. A parent opposed to the provisions of a visitation determination may be able to delay implementation for many months, possibly even years, thereby frustrating not only the other parent, but also the process that led to the issuance of the original court order.
The provisions of Article 3 provide several remedies for the enforcement of a custody determination. First, there is a simple procedure for registering a custody determination in another State. This will allow a party to know in advance whether that State will recognize the party’s custody determination. This is extremely important in estimating the risk of the child’s non-return when the child is sent on visitation. The provision should prove to be very useful in international custody cases.
Second, the Act provides a swift remedy along the lines of habeas corpus. Time is extremely important in visitation and custody cases. If visitation rights cannot be enforced quickly, they often cannot be enforced at all. This is particularly true if there is a limited time within which visitation can be exercised such as may be the case when one parent has been granted visitation during the winter or spring holiday period. Without speedy consideration and resolution of the enforcement of such visitation rights, the ability to visit may be lost entirely. Similarly, a custodial parent must be able to obtain prompt enforcement when the noncustodial parent refuses to return a child at the end of authorized visitation, particularly when a summer visitation extension will infringe on the school year. A swift enforcement mechanism is desirable for violations of both custody and visitation provisions.
The scope of the enforcing court’s inquiry is limited to the issue of whether the decree court had jurisdiction and complied with due process in rendering the original custody decree. No further inquiry is necessary because neither Article 2 nor the PKPA allows an enforcing court to modify a custody determination.
Third, the enforcing court will be able to utilize an extraordinary remedy. If the enforcing court is concerned that the parent, who has physical custody of the child, will flee or harm the child, a warrant to take physical possession of the child is available.
Finally, there is a role for public authorities, such as prosecutors, in the enforcement process. Their involvement will encourage the parties to abide by the terms of the custody determination. If the parties know that public authorities and law enforcement officers are available to help in securing compliance with custody determinations, the parties may be deterred from interfering with the exercise of rights established by court order.
The involvement of public authorities will also prove more effective in remedying violations of custody determinations. Most parties do not have the resources to enforce a custody determination in another jurisdiction. The availability of the public authorities as an enforcement agency will help ensure that this remedy can be made available regardless of income level. In addition, the public authorities may have resources to draw on that are unavailable to the average litigant.
This Act does not authorize the public authorities to be involved in the action leading up to the making of the custody determination, except when requested by the court, when there is a violation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, or when the person holding the child has violated a criminal statute. The Act does not mandate that public authorities be involved in all cases. Not all States, or local authorities, have the funds necessary for an effective custody and visitation enforcement program.
 Prefatory Note and Comments are subject to Copyright by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The official comments have been modified to correspond to the correct sections of the UCCJEA as adopted in Michigan. The original version of the official commentary can be found at http://www.uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/child_custody_jurisdiction/uccjea_final_97.pdf