June 11, 2007
South Carolina has become the 46 state to adopt important state legislation which is part of the continuing effort to put an end to child kidnapping by warring parents. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), introduced as SB 13 by Senator Robert W. “Wes” Hayes, was signed into law by Governor Mark Sanford on June 8.
The UCCJEA, promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), is now the law in every state except Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont The UCCJEA is an important step forward in establishing clarity and predictability with regard to interstate custody rules, and resolves several significant jurisdictional questions that arose over the years concerning the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) of 1968. The UCCJA was designed to prevent a fairly common legal standoff of the day, whereby one parent gained legal custody of a child in one state, and the other parent managed to take the child to a "haven state"; in search of a court willing to change the initial lawful custody order. Under the UCCJEA, this kind of conduct is no longer legal. The UCCJEA harmonizes federal law and developments in case law by prioritizing home state jurisdiction. Additionally, the UCCJEA sets forth the concept of continuing exclusive jurisdiction. The order of a state with continuing exclusive jurisdiction is entitled to be enforced in every other state. No other state can modify the order unless the first state relinquishes jurisdiction. These changes bring certainty to custody and visitation determinations within South Carolina. Moreover, the UCCJEA provides enforcement mechanisms which prevents kidnappers from hiding behind divergent state laws and ensures that missing children return home even if they cross state lines. The act also expands protections for victims of domestic violence. Additionally, the act establishes procedures for interstate enforcement of custody orders including registration, expedited enforcement, and the use of other civil remedies by prosecutors and law enforcement. In this and other respects, the UCCJEA accomplishes for custody and visitation determinations the same certainty that has occurred in interstate child support law with the promulgation of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, now the law in every jurisdiction.
The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA), a companion bill to UCCJEA, was also introduced in South Carolina as SB 486. The UCAPA expands abduction preventions found in the UCCJEA to all custody cases. The prevention mechanisms under the UCCJEA apply only to post-decree cases. The UCAPA was enacted in six states during the 2007 legislative season: Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, and Nevada.
With South Carolina's enactment of the UCCJEA, only 4 states and Puerto Rico remain as jurisdictions within the United States that do not have the UCCJEA in effect. Those states are Missouri, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The UCCJEA was introduced to the Missouri Legislature in the 2007 session, but was caught up in a busy session.