child custody filing in Connecticut

Child Custody Jurisdiction & Connecticut

If you are seeking custody of your child, it is important to file your claim with the correct court.  A court may only hear your case if it has proper jurisdiction.  Jurisdiction is the official power of the court to make legal decisions and judgments and is typically governed by state law.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Divorce Settlements in ConnecticutFor many years, it was difficult to determine which court had child custody jurisdiction.  American families became increasingly mobile, often moving from state to state.  Under those circumstances, determining which state law governed a child custody dispute was confusing.  Different state laws and years of court decisions created conflicts between states and, in some cases, federal law.

To resolve these conflicts, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA, was created. The UCCJEA sets forth a hierarchy of several different grounds for jurisdiction and establishes separate provisions for initial custody determinations and subsequent modification proceedings.  The UCCJEA has been adopted by most states, including Connecticut.  It is codified in Connecticut General Statutes 46b-115 et. seq.

Home State Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction for an initial child custody determination is governed by Connecticut General Statutes 46b-115k.  The law sets forth four bases for jurisdiction, with each succeeding basis only applying if no state meets any of the previous bases.

The first basis is commonly referred to as “home state” jurisdiction.  The law provides that a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial child-custody determination if this state (1) is the home state of the child at the time of the commencement of the proceeding, or (2) had been the child’s home state within six months before the commencement of the proceeding, the child is absent from the state, and a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.

For purposes of this law, the term “home state” is defined as the state in which the child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six months immediately before the commencement of a custody proceeding.  In the case of a child less than six months of age, the home state will be the state in which the child lived from birth with any parent or person acting as the parent.  Periods of temporary absence from the state are included as part of the six-month period. (C.G.S. § 46b-115a(7)).

For example, a father seeking custody of his son recently came in for a consultation.  He and his son had recently moved to Connecticut from South Carolina, where his son was born.  The child’s mother continued to reside in South Carolina.  We explained that jurisdiction for his custody claim remained in South Carolina, his son’s home state.  He was advised to wait at least six months before filing a claim for child custody in Connecticut.

Significant-Connections Jurisdiction

There are circumstances, however, when a child has no “home state” or no one remains in the home state.  For such cases, the law provides a second basis that is generally referred to as “significant-connection” jurisdiction.  Under this basis, Connecticut has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if no other state has home-state jurisdiction, or if the home state has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that Connecticut is a more appropriate forum, and

  • The child and at least one parent or person acting as a parent have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence, and
  • There is available in this state substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.

If two or more states meet these criteria, priority among potential jurisdictions is resolved in favor of the first-filed proceeding.

This basis for jurisdiction is best understood by way of example.  In one case, our firm represented a mother in a child custody suit that had lived in Connecticut with her children for only three months.  The mother moved here from Florida, where she and her family had lived for several years.  After her relationship with the children’s father ended, he moved to New York in pursuit of a job opportunity while she opted to move with her children to Connecticut.  The mother was born and raised in Connecticut and she and her children continued to share a very close relationship with her parents and other relatives that still lived there.  Once relocated, the mother quickly enrolled the children in school and extra-curricular activities, where they soon made friends.  Under these specific circumstances, Connecticut did not have home state jurisdiction of the children because they had not lived there for at least six months.  Florida also lacked home state jurisdiction because the father did not continue living there after the children moved.  In the absence of home state jurisdiction, it was determined that Connecticut had custody jurisdiction based upon ample evidence that the mother and her children had a significant connection to Connecticut.

More Appropriate Forum Jurisdiction

Child Custody & ConnecticutCircumstances may arise where Connecticut may be a more appropriate forum than the state that has home state jurisdiction or significant connection jurisdiction.  For such situations, the law provides a third basis for “more appropriate forum” jurisdiction.  Under this basis, Connecticut has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if the state that would have home state jurisdiction declines to act on the ground that Connecticut is a more appropriate forum, and

  • The child and at least one parent or person acting as a parent have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence, and
  • There is available in this state substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.

It is important to note that it is the home state that must make the initial determination that Connecticut is the more appropriate forum.  Connecticut may not draw that conclusion if the home state has not done so.

By way of example, imagine that when the previously mentioned couple broke up, the father continued living in Florida after the mother moved to Connecticut with their children.  After three months, the father files for custody in Florida court.  Under the UCCJEA, the Florida court has home state jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, the Florida court may decline to hear the father’s claim if it determines that under the circumstances, Connecticut is a more appropriate forum.  Thereafter, the custody claim can be filed in Connecticut and the court may exercise “more appropriate forum” jurisdiction.

Last-Resort Jurisdiction

Finally, Connecticut has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination where no court of any other state has home state or significant connection jurisdiction and no court with jurisdiction has deferred to another state as a more appropriate forum.  This is a “last resort” type provision, which should be used only when a child has no home state and no significant connection with another state.

Since the applicability of  “last resort” jurisdiction is so limited, it is infrequently used.  Nonetheless, one example where last resort jurisdiction may apply is when a family has moved around so frequently that the children have never lived anywhere for six months, and as a result, have never had an opportunity to develop significant connections in any one state.

Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction

In emergency cases, the UCCJEA provides a separate ground for exercising temporary jurisdiction.  Under Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-115n, a court of this state has “temporary emergency” jurisdiction to make a child custody determination by initial or modification decree if the following conditions exist:

  • The child is physically present in the state; and
  • Either (1) the child has been abandoned, or (2) it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, a sibling or parent has been, or is under a threat of being, abused or mistreated.

When considering the scope of this provision, there are several important features to keep in mind.  First, this provision is only intended to address the case where a child is in an emergency situation requiring immediate protection.  It is not intended to address every circumstance claimed to be detrimental to a child.  Second, a court may take jurisdiction to protect a child even though it may not qualify for either home state or significant-connection jurisdiction.  Finally, a custody determination under this provision is only a temporary order.  A court may assume jurisdiction to protect the child only until a court with jurisdiction under one of the grounds discussed above enters an order.

Declining Jurisdiction

The various jurisdictional bases previously discussed do not impose on the court a mandatory duty to act in all cases over which it has jurisdiction.  Even if Connecticut, or another state, has jurisdiction to issue a custody order, it is not required to do so.  The UCCJEA provides that a court may decline to exercise its jurisdiction at any time if it finds that it is an inconvenient forum to make a custody determination under the circumstances of the case, and finds that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum.  The issue of inconvenient forum may be raised upon a motion of a party, the court’s own motion, or a request of another court. (C.G.S. § 46b-115q).

Jurisdiction can also be refused if Connecticut obtained jurisdiction “because a person seeking to invoke its jurisdiction has engaged in unjustifiable conduct” (See C.G.S. § 46b-115r).  An example of unjustifiable conduct is where a parent has improperly removed, retained, or concealed a child in the state for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction.

Modification and Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction

 The UCCJEA provides for exclusive, continuing jurisdiction.  Once a Connecticut court has made a child custody determination pursuant to the home state, significant-connections, more appropriate forum, or last resort jurisdictional provisions of the UCCJEA, it retains jurisdiction over the determination until:

  • A court of this state or a court of another state determines that the child, the child’s parents and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in this state; or
  • A court of this state determines that:
  • This state is not the home state of the child,
  • A parent or a person acting as a parent continues to reside in this state but the child no longer has a significant relationship with such parent or person, and
  • Substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.

(See C.G.S. § 46b-115l(a).)

Similarly, before a Connecticut court can modify another state’s custody order, it should refer to the others state’s version of the UCCJEA to determine whether modification jurisdiction remains there.  If it does, the Connecticut claim should be dismissed.

Jurisdiction issues concerning child custody can be difficult and confusing.  At McConnell Family Law Group, our family lawyers can help resolve these issues and make sure your custody claim is filed in the correct court.  For more information on how we can help you with your child custody claim, please contact us online.

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