Where can I file for child custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)
Generally, you must file in the “home state” of the child. The “home state” is the state where the child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the child custody proceeding is started. If your child is less than six months old, the home state is the state where the child has lived from birth. This means that if you and your child recently moved to Florida, you generally cannot file for custody in Florida until you and your child have lived here for at least six months. Until then, Florida courts do not have jurisdiction (power) to make a child custody determination. For the first 6 months that you are living with the child in Florida, either you or the other parent could start a custody action in the state that your child most recently lived in for at least six months.1 However, if a case is started in the former state where you lived, then you would likely need permission from the judge in that state to move to Florida with the child, which can be difficult to get.
However, there are exceptions to this “home state rule” described above. In some cases, you can file for custody in Florida when the child and at least one parent have “significant connections” to Florida (aside from physically being in the state) and substantial evidence is available in Florida concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. Usually, however, you can only do this if no other state qualifies as a home state or if the home state has agreed to let Florida have jurisdiction.2 This can be complicated. If you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer. Go to our FL Finding a Lawyer page.
1 F.S.A. § 61.514(1)(a)
2 F.S.A. § 61.514(1)(b)