Which State Decides the Visitation Schedule When One Parent Moves Out-of-State?

Eric Blackburn and Mary Sheys were married for four year and had two children before they divorced in 2009.  At the time of their divorce they were both living in Manchester.  Mary was awarded primary custody while Eric had the children every other weekend, spent two afternoons every week with them, and had them for two weeks during summer vacation.

This arrangement seemed to work well until early 2013, when Mary got a job in the Boston area and had to move there.  After a court battle, the Judge agreed to modify the visitation schedule so that Eric still had the children every other weekend and during some vacation time, but no longer saw them two afternoons every week unless he was in the Boston area.

Then, at the end of 2013, Eric went back to court to try to modify the order and get primary custody. Mary moved to dismiss Eric’s new motion, arguing that because she had now lived in Massachusetts for one year, the Massachusetts courts had jurisdiction instead of New Hampshire.  The Judge agreed and dismissed Eric’s motion. He appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

These kinds of relocation issues come up all the time and the constant variation on the details drives the courts crazy trying to decide what to do.  The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (known everywhere as the “UCCJEA“) has been adopted by almost every state to give some uniform structure to how courts should decide which state will make the parenting decisions.  (We have previously discussed the UCCJEA in another blog post).

What the UCCJEA says about a case like this is once a court makes a custody decision, then that state should keep control of the case unless the child no longer has a “significant connection” to the state.  In this case, the New Hamsphire court made the initial custody decision and so the New Hampshire court should hold onto the case until the child no longer has a significant connection here.  The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with Eric that, even though his children do not reside in New Hampshire anymore, they continue to have a significant connection here because of his regular visitation with him here.  Therefore, the case should not have been dismissed and the Supreme Court sent the case back to the original Judge to decide Eric’s motion to change the parenting plan.  The case name is In the Matter of Sheys.

If you find yourself  in a situation where you or your ex have moved, or want to move out of state with your children, it is best contact an experienced New Hampshire family law lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.  Strict time limits apply in many cases so some decisions need to be made quickly.

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