"UCCJEA" stands for "Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act." Chapter 518D of the Minnesota Statutes is Minnesota's version of the UCCJEA. Since child custody and divorce proceedings are dealt with by individual States, a mechanism was needed to address interstate child custody issues; the UCCJEA does just that. It provides a procedure to follow in determining which State has the authority to issue a custody order, when multiple states are involved.

For instance, what would happen if a married couple has two children and resided in the State of Minnesota for five years, then the parties separated informally and the mother and the children moved to the State of Wisconsin where they resided for five months? Would Minnesota or Wisconsin have authority and jurisdiction to issue a custody order (through a divorce proceeding or otherwise)? As I provide in detail below, in this case, Minnesota would have jurisdiction, because Minnesota remains the "home state" since the children resided in Minnesota for a continuous six months, and since they have not yet resided in Wisconsin for the same six month period.

The UCCJEA defines a minor child’s “home state” as follows:

'Home state’ means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period.

As defined above, to be the children’s “home state” the minor children would have had to reside in Minnesota for six consecutive months prior to the commencement of the custody proceeding. Alternatively, Minnesota would be considered the “home state” of the children if it was the home state of the children within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the children are absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.

Minn. Stat. § 518D.201 provides at length as follows:

(a) Except as otherwise provided in section 518D.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 clause (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 518D.207 or 518D.208, and:

(i) 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

(ii) substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships

(3) all courts having jurisdiction under clause (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 518D.207 or 518D.208; or

(4) no court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in clause (1), (2), or (3)

(b) Paragraph (a) is the exclusive jurisdictional basis for making a child custody determination by a court of this state.

(c) Physical presence of, or personal jurisdiction over, a party or a child is not necessary or sufficient to make a child custody determination.

As provided above, Minn. Stat. § 518D.201 (a)(2) allows jurisdiction to exist in Minnesota if there is no home state and:

(i) 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

(ii) substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships

As cited above, Minn. Stat. § 518D.201 (a)(3) would allow the State of Minnesota to exercise jurisdiction over custody if “all courts having jurisdiction under clause (1) or (2) [of Minn. Stat. § 518D.201 (a)] 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 518D.207 or 518D.208.”

Minn. Stat. § 518D.207 provides at length as follows:

(a) A court of this state which has jurisdiction under this chapter to make a child custody determination may decline to exercise its jurisdiction at any time if it determines that it is an inconvenient forum under the circumstances and that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum. The issue of inconvenient forum may be raised upon motion of a party, the court's own motion, or request of another court.

(b) Before determining whether it is an inconvenient forum, a court of this state shall consider whether it is appropriate for a court of another state to exercise jurisdiction. For this purpose, the court shall allow the parties to submit information and shall consider all relevant factors, including:

(1) whether domestic violence has occurred and is likely to continue in the future and which state could best protect the parties and the child;

(2) the length of time the child has resided outside this state;

(3) the distance between the court in this state and the court in the state that would assume jurisdiction;

(4) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(5) any agreement of the parties as to which state should assume jurisdiction;

(6) the nature and location of the evidence required to resolve the pending litigation, including testimony of the child;

(7) the ability of the court of each state to decide the issue expeditiously and the procedures necessary to present the evidence; and

(8) the familiarity of the court of each state with the facts and issues in the pending litigation.

(c) If a court of this state determines that it is an inconvenient forum and that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum, it shall stay the proceedings upon condition that a child custody proceeding be promptly commenced in another designated state and may impose any other condition the court considers just and proper.

The “Official Comments (2006 Main Volume)” to Minn. Stat. § 518D.207 provide in part as follows:

This section retains the focus of Section 7 of the UCCJA. It authorizes courts to decide that another State is in a better position to make the custody determination, taking into consideration the relative circumstances of the parties. If so, the court may defer to the other State.

The list of factors that the court may consider has been updated from the UCCJA. The list is not meant to be exclusive. Several provisions require comment. Subparagraph (1) is concerned specifically with domestic violence and other matters affecting the health and safety of the parties. For this purpose, the court should determine whether the parties are located in different States because one party is a victim of domestic violence or child abuse. If domestic violence or child abuse has occurred, this factor authorizes the court to consider which State can best protect the victim from further violence or abuse. * * *

In applying subsection (7) on expeditious resolution of the controversy, the court could consider the different procedural and evidentiary laws of the two States, as well as the flexibility of the court dockets. It also should consider the ability of a court to arrive at a solution to all the legal issues surrounding the family. If one State has jurisdiction to decide both the custody and support issues, it would be desirable to determine that State to be the most convenient forum. The same is true when children of the same family live in different States. * * *

Before determining whether to decline or retain jurisdiction, the court of this State may communicate, in accordance with Section 110, with a court of another State and exchange information pertinent to the assumption of jurisdiction by either court.