What are California Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws?

Part One – “Home State” Rules

What Are California Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws?

California child custody jurisdiction laws sometimes cross over state lines. When they do, questions arise as to whether or not California actually has the jurisdiction (which essentially means “power”) over the parents and the child. There are several circumstances in which California can have jurisdiction to make child custody orders. Since the law on the subject can be complicated, we are going to break up this article into four different parts. In this first part we are going to discuss the concept of a home state and what it means in California child custody cases.

Understand that home state is not the only grounds that California has the power to make custody orders. However, it is often a starting point before California will look to other ways to exercise its jurisdiction.

California Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws – What is “home state”?

California has the power to make custody orders if is either the home state of the child when the child custody proceeding has started or was the child’s home state within six months before the preceding has started and, even though the child is absent from this state, a parent or a person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.

Sound a little confusing? It can be and this is why consultation with an experienced child custody lawyer is so important.

The words “home state” within the context of California child custody jurisdiction law means the state where the child has lived with either the parent or the person who is acting as a parent for a minimum of six consecutive months immediately before the custody proceeding has started. Of course, if the child is less than six months old, then the home state becomes where the child has lived from birth.

Parents sometimes ask whether this minimum timeframe can be satisfied after the custody proceeding is filed. Unless the court has previously exercised temporary emergency powers, the answer is no. We will discuss temporary emergency powers in a different article.

Temporary absences and impact on Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws?

Fortunately for parents, temporary absences do not defeat California’s jurisdiction over the child custody case. It is not unusual for a child to temporarily leave the state for a variety of reasons. These can include vacation, visits with relatives or friends, to obtain care that may not be available in California or even temporary visitation with the other parent that does not displace the child from his or her residence in the State of California. The key word is “temporary” because evidence that the absence was intended to be anything other than that could destroy California’s jurisdiction to make child custody orders.

What does home state mean for the parent who is trying to establish jurisdiction?

Simply put, if the parent can establish that the home state is California, California will have jurisdiction over the case and it is unnecessary to delve too much further into other methods that California could exercise its power. Home state jurisdiction is the simplest and most straightforward way that California can make child custody orders that bind the parents and avoid one parent from forum shopping outside the state.

What happens to California’s child custody jurisdiction if another state has already taken action?

All is not lost in such a situation. California courts will defer to another state even if the case was started here, in those situations where the other state has home state jurisdiction. While laws do vary from state to state, most other states have similar rules and if you believe California is the home state of the child and there is a custody case pending elsewhere, you must take immediate action both in that state and the State of California to establish jurisdiction here.

Got questions about California’s jurisdiction over your child custody case? Want to know whether or not the child custody case belongs in California or another state? These are questions for our experienced child custody lawyers. Contact us today for an affordable strategy session and we will discuss your specific situation and help you get answers to your questions. Our family law firm has offices in Orange County and Los Angeles.