Determining NJ Jurisdiction in Interstate Child Custody & Support Disputes

In celebrity news, the child custody rift between Jersey Shore reality star Pauly D and Amanda Markert, the mother of his 5-month old daughter Amabella, has pushed into the spotlight the issue of what happens in complex child custody disputes in which a child’s two parents live in different states. Pauly D, based on reports, appears to be a legal resident of either Nevada, where he regularly works as a DJ on the Las Vegas club scene, or Rhode Island, where he owns a home. Markert is a lifelong resident of New Jersey, where Amabella was born. According to various news sources, Pauly D would prefer to file for sole custody of his daughter in Nevada, while Markert allegedly plans to take him to court in NJ to settle their matters.

Where will the two have their dispute heard? When parents live in two different states, the question of jurisdiction, or which state’s court should hear a child custody or child support case, depends on a number of factors, including:

– Do any court orders already exist? If parents have previously appeared in court to settle a related matter, continuing under that court’s jurisdiction is usually preferred.

– Where does the child presently live?

– Where has the child lived before this time?

If no court has ever entered an order for custody or support (as appears to be the case with Pauly D and Markert), the general rule is that a court in the state where the child has lived for the last six months is the appropriate court to resolve the case. If the child is less than six months old, the state where the child was born and has lived since birth usually has jurisdiction. This is called the child’s home state. In the case of Markert, though she met the reality in Las Vegas, she returned to New Jersey and gave birth to Amabella here. She has also lived in New Jersey since her daughter’s birth, which seems to give weight to NJ being the “home state” in charge of jurisdiction.

However, if a child has not lived in one state since birth or for the last six months, she technically has no home state. When there is no home state, the courts can consider which state is best suited to resolve the matter. They look at significant connections between the child and the state. For example, the state that is home to the child’s relatives, teachers, or doctors, who may be potential witnesses if a trial is necessary, has significant connections.

If the courts in two states both determine that their state may take jurisdiction over the case, the two courts are required by law to communicate with each other to decide jointly on which state’s courts should resolve the issue.