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Enforcement of custody orders in other states

As most divorcing couples in Tennessee realize, the entry of the divorce decree by the court does not always end disputes about child custody or the payment of alimony and support. A common cause of such disputes is the decision by one or both spouses to relocate to another state. In 1999, the Tennessee legislature enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to aid former spouses in enforcing or modifying the terms of a child custody decree after the former spouse has moved out of the state.

The act is intended to provide an expeditious method of resolving child custody disputes while preserving basic constitutional rights to notice of a proceeding and the opportunity to present evidence. The essential concept behind the act is that all divorce decrees and orders must be treated as fully enforceable by courts in any other state regardless of the jurisdiction in which the order was originally entered and against all parties over whom the original court had jurisdiction. Courts in Tennessee and in most other states may decline to hear an application for relief if it determines that this state is an inconvenient forum for one or more of the ex-spouses or any children.

The general rule quoted above has numerous exceptions and qualifications that cannot be fully explained in a brief blog post. For example, a court in Tennessee cannot modify a custody order issued by a court in another state unless that court determines that it no longer has exclusive jurisdiction over the matter.

The statute is extremely complicated and should not be negotiated without the help of an experienced divorce attorney. Anyone contemplating seeking relief under the act – or anyone who has been served with notice of a similar proceeding in another state – will be greatly assisted by consulting a knowledgeable family law attorney who can evaluate the facts of the case and offer strategies for optimizing the client’s interests.