Many parents know that they want to file for child custody, but some are not sure where they should file. If you are new to New Jersey or have recently moved back, you may be surprised to learn that New Jersey may not be the right state to file your custody application. Here’s how to determine where you should file.
The Home State of the Child
If you don’t already have a court order that sets out custody from another state, then the general rule of thumb is that the “home state” of the child is where any custody or parenting time requests must be filed. The home state is where the child has lived for at least the last six consecutive months. So, if you have relocated with your child to New Jersey but you have only lived here for two months, the courts here would not have jurisdiction over your child.
If the New Jersey family courts do not have jurisdiction over your child because you have not lived here long enough, that means they will not accept your request for custody and you will not receive a court date before a New Jersey judge.
Which state has jurisdiction?
You most likely will have to file any requests for custody or parenting time in the state where your child last lived. So, if you lived in Alabama for two years prior to moving here to New Jersey, you would have to file your request with the Alabama state courts. This, of course, can be inconvenient for families who have already gone through the stress and expense of moving. It may be wise to ask an attorney familiar with the laws in Alabama if you would be permitted to appear by phone for any custody hearings that may happen.
Regardless, it is always a good idea to talk with an attorney from the state where your custody case will most likely be heard. They are a great resource for that state’s laws as well as local procedures for family court.
What are my options?
If it’s possible, you can wait the required six months before you file your request for custody in New Jersey. Once you establish residency here with your child, New Jersey will then be able to take over jurisdiction from your old home state and hear your case.
Don’t forget: if you and your child’s other parent already have a court order from another state that discusses child custody, support or parenting time, that state will usually keep jurisdiction, especially if the order specifically says that that state must keep jurisdiction going forward, regardless if the child or the parents move.
Jurisdiction can be tricky and it helps to talk with a family law attorney so you can get the very best advice for your family. It is difficult to go it alone, especially when there is confusion about what court will be in charge of your child.
Of course, if you need further information about your child’s home state or any other area of family law, contact us to schedule your initial confidential consultation with one of our caring and experienced family law attorneys.