Where can I file for child custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)
You can only file for custody in court if that court has the legal ability to take the case. This is called “jurisdiction.” Maryland follows a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which determines what state has jurisdiction over custody cases (meaning where you can file for custody).
Under the UCCJEA, you can generally only file for custody in the "home state" of the child1 but there are exceptions to this. See Are there exceptions to the "home state rule?" for more information.
The "home state" is generally the state where the child has lived with a parent (or a person acting as a parent) for at least the past 6 consecutive months. In the case of a child less than 6 months old, the "home state" is the state where the child has lived since s/he was born. Leaving the state for a short time then coming back does not change anything.2
If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least 6 months. Until then, the other parent may be able to start a custody case in the state that your children most recently lived in for at least 6 months.2 However, there are some exceptions to this. Please speak to a lawyer regarding the specifics of your case to find out where to file.
Here are some basic examples:
- My children lived in Alabama their whole lives. We just moved to Maryland a few weeks ago. In my case, Alabama is my children's "home state." If I want to file for custody right now, I will probably need to file in Alabama.
- My children lived in Alabama until we moved to Maryland 6 months ago. Because the children have lived in Maryland for 6 months, and there were no prior custody cases in Alabama, Maryland is their "home state." I will likely need to file for custody in Maryland.
- My children lived in Maryland until they left to live with the other parent in Alabama 2 months ago. Because they haven't lived in Alabama for 6 months yet, their home state is still Maryland. If I want to file for custody, I can most likely file in Maryland.
1 Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9.5-201
2 Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9.5-101(h)
3 Md. Code, Fam. Law § 9.5-201(a)(1)