UCCJEA stands for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Family Code Ch. 152 contains the Texas version of the act. The UCCJEA is designed to give states throughout our country the ability to hear child custody matters that may have originated in other states or even foreign countries. Texas custody laws recognize that the best interests of the child call for courts to have the ability to take swift action when custody orders need to be enforced or modified. If you were divorced in another state or country and moved to Texas, the UCCJEA child custody laws allow Texas family courts to help you.
A SAPCR is a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. When a married couple with children files for divorce, they may not realize it, but their divorce suit also contains a SAPCR. When unmarried parents have a dispute over some sort of child custody issue, they can file a SAPCR as a standalone lawsuit. A SAPCR is the formal court proceeding by which a Texas family law court can exercise jurisdiction over parents and issue orders regarding custody, visitation, child support obligations, and any geographic restrictions on where the parents can live.
For a Texas court to have jurisdiction over the initial SAPCR, the child does not have to be physically present in this state. Family Code § 152.201, however, provides other criteria that must be met before a Texas court can make an initial child custody determination:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in Section 152.204 , a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:
(1) this state is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state;
(2) a court of another state does not have jurisdiction under Subdivision (1), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum under Section 152.207 or 152.208 , and:
(A) the child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
(B) substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
(3) all courts having jurisdiction under Subdivision (1) or (2) have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under Section 152.207 or 152.208 ; or
(4) no court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in Subdivision (1), (2), or (3).
Texas Custody Laws
Texas Family Code § 202 provides exclusive continuing jurisdiction for the Texas court that made the initial child custody determination. A Texas court will lose jurisdiction over a child custody matter once the court determines this state does not have a significant connection to the child or neither parent nor the child lives in Texas.
All these Texas child custody laws are great for parents and child who filed their SAPCRs in Texas courts and continue to reside in Texas after the judge signs the final decree. But what if you’re a parent who has moved to Texas from another state or country and need to modify or enforce your custody orders from a non-Texas court? That is where UCCJEA jurisdiction provisions come into play.
Texas courts can modify custody determinations made by an out-of-state court if the criteria in Family Code § 152.201 are satisfied and the foreign court determines Texas is a better fit for the case or neither parent nor child reside in the state with original jurisdiction. The UCCJEA also allows Texas courts to enforce child custody determinations made by out-of-state courts.
UCCJEA Emergency Jurisdiction
Sometimes parents and children are in Texas temporarily and an emergency child custody issue arises. They don’t satisfy the requirements for a Texas court to take over exclusive jurisdiction. What can this parent do to protect his or her child in that emergency situation? The UCCJEA allows Texas courts to exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction.
Texas courts can exercise emergency jurisdiction over a child and the child’s parents if:
- the child has been abandoned in Texas; or
- the child, a sibling, or a parent is subjected to mistreatment or abuse in Texas and needs protection
If another state’s court has continuing exclusive jurisdiction over child custody matters, the Texas court’s order should provide an expiration date that terminates the emergency order once the out-of-state court has an opportunity to make a permanent ruling.