Starting an Interstate Custody Case

Actor David Schwimmer, and his wife Zoe Buckman, announced they plan to take some time apart. David is American, Zoe is British, they relocated to California, and their daughter was born in New York. Where would they start an interstate custody case?

The Schwimmers

The Friends star, Schwimmer aged 50, is married to London-born artist, Buckman aged 31. They share one child together, a daughter named Cleo who is about 5.

The couple, who have been together for 10 years, said that during this time their family is still their main priority, and also stating their full attention will be on the happiness of their daughter.

In a statement released to Mirror Online on Wednesday, the Friends star confirmed that they will spend a period of time trying to “determine the future” of their relationship.

Interstate Custody

I’ve written about interstate custody cases before. Generally, when two parents reside in Florida, Florida custody laws will apply. However, when one of the parents and the child move across state lines, you have an interstate custody problem.

But, which law applies? Historically, family law is a matter of state rather than federal law. So, you would look to the state law of Florida, for example, in deciding an interstate case; not Federal law. As will be seen below, there are some conflicts with different state laws.

For various reasons, people travel more. As a result, family law has to take on an interstate, and international component. Accordingly, the conflicts between states can be amplified.

To help with confusion between between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, visitation, and time-sharing. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

The UCCJEA: Initial Actions

The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Florida for this example.

The ultimate determining factor in a Florida case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Florida has initial jurisdiction to hear the Schwimmer case, for example, if Florida is the Home State of their daughter Chloe on the date they start their case.

Alternatively, Florida can hear the case if Florida was the Home State of Chloe within 6-months before they filed their case, and Chloe is absent from Florida, but one of the parents still lives in Florida. This usually happens when a parent takes a child across state lines.

There is a good reason for the ‘home state’ approach under the UCCJEA, which has been adopted by most state laws. That is that Florida – and the other states – all have a strong public policy interest in protecting children in their states.

The Schwimmer’s divorce announcement went on to read:

“It is with great love, respect and friendship that we have decided to take some time apart while we determine the future of our relationship,” the said in a joint statement.

The U.K. Mirror article is here.