The UCCJEA and Florida:

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I like to think I stay well-informed regarding current issues in family law.  I read new case law; attend continuing legal education seminars; seek out multiple-day conferences; I even read up on new procedural law changes (believe me, that is elevated nerdiness). Further, when the sweeping changes affecting the Florida family law statutes encompassing timesharing, alimony, and paternity were enacted in July 2023, I could see the arguments for and against these changes to family law.  This is a lead-up to letting you know that either I simply missed it, or I had completely disassociated from Florida’s asylum-like politics and purposely pretended it was not happening. . . It was only today when preparing for a hearing involving the UCCJEA that I learned the Florida legislature snuck in a provision into this fairly straightforward  statute.


What is the UCCJEA?

“UCCJEA” is the acronym for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdictional Enforcement Act.  This act serves as the legal framework in resolving child custody disputes that can cross several different states and jurisdictions within the U.S. or foreign countries.  As the word, uniform, suggests, the UCCJEA has been adopted in some form by every state (except Massachusetts that follows the older version of the law, the UCCJA).  The intended, and stated, purpose of the UCCJEA is avoiding jurisdictional competition between courts in different states in child custody cases. The UCCJEA establishes and maintains consistency in custody determinations, avoiding potential conflicts and confusion that might arise when two different states have related interests regarding a child.  Essentially, the UCCJEA was enacted so that parents would not utilize the court systems in different states to try and find the one that best suited their objectives.  The bottom-line—-the UCCJEA was put in place to prevent forum shopping.


How is Jurisdiction Determined According to the UCCJEA?

 The UCCJEA establishes clear guidelines to determine when a state would have jurisdiction over a child.  Having jurisdiction over the child means that the court would be able to make decisions regarding the child.  The concept of the child’s “home state” is the first consideration as to which state has jurisdiction over the child.  A child’s home state is the state where a child lived with a parent for 6 consecutive months before the filing of a case that involves child custody issues.  The child’s home state would be the proper state to determine an initial child custody matter.  In circumstances where the child has not lived in any state for at least six months, a court can accept jurisdiction of the child if other criteria are met.  Namely, the child and at least one parent have significant connections with the state and substantial evidence involving the child exists in the state.


Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction

 Other than the above methods of exercising jurisdiction, the other method in which Florida can exercise jurisdiction is under Florida Statutes, §61.517, Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction.  Previously, pursuant to this part of the UCCJEA, there were two circumstances in which Florida could exercise temporary jurisdiction in emergency situations if the child was present in Florida and (1) the child has been abandoned or (2) the child, a sibling, or parent of the child has been endangered or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.  As I indicated at the start, these are straightforward and rational reasons as to why Florida courts should exercise jurisdiction over a child:  Protecting children who are physically present in Florida when they are in emergency situations.  However, Florida recently added another “emergency” circumstance under which Florida could chose to exercise jurisdiction: When “it is necessary to protect the child because the child has been subjected to or is threatened with being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions and procedures.”  Under the Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction Statute, if a matter involving child custody issues has not been started in a court of a state having jurisdiction, “a child custody determination becomes a final determination if it so provides and Florida becomes the child’s home state.”


Potential Problems Caused by this Provision[2]

Although the current governor and his people proudly boast that this addition to the UCCJEA is meant to protect the “innocence of Florida’s children” and Florida is “following the science to elevate our standards of care to protect kids from harmful drugs and surgeries,” this provision actually creates the potential for problems that the UCCJEA was created to avoid.  By adding in the third provision above, Florida’s UCCJEA gives permission for parents to use the Florida court system in their “forum shopping.” Most troubling is that this new provision essentially obliterates the criteria in determining which state would have the jurisdiction to make custody determination. As indicated above, even if another state had actual jurisdiction over the child, if a parent gets to Florida with the child first, claims that their poor, innocent child needs to be protected because they have been a victim of, or been threatened with, sex-reassignment procedures, that parent could have the court in Florida enter a judgment regarding custody of the child, and if the Court chose to label the judgment as “final,” it would be.  And Florida is deemed the home state of the child.  This means that Florida would have continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over any litigation involving a child.  Thus, the other parent would not be able to bring litigation in the correct state with actual jurisdiction.  Although clearly, the governor meant it to be compliment for Florida, he actually stated the potential issue plainly, “As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy.” He might as well held up a flashing sign to parents that want to circumvent the law of their own jurisdiction that said, “Come to Florida, folks, we don’t care about actual uniform procedures and law.”  The UCCJEA’s aim was to prevent competitions between states and instead encourage cooperation through uniform laws.  By imbuing political attitudes into the law, Florida’s UCCJEA now does the exact opposite.


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[1] Said with a shaking of the head, pursed lips, and a heavy sigh in disappointment

[2] I actually wanted this headline to read, “Florida Man F**ks Up Family Law by Putting Politics Into Procedures Purporting to Protect the Innocent Children” (I really like alliteration.)


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