Where can I file for custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)
Generally, you can only file for custody in the “home state” of the child.1 The “home state” is the state where your child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months. If your child is less than 6 months old, then your child’s home state is the state where s/he has lived since birth. Leaving the state for a short period of time, such as going on vacation, does not change your child’s home state.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 six months. Until then, you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state where your child has most recently lived for at least 6 months. There are exceptions to the “home state” rule. Please see Can I change the state where the case is being heard? for more information.
Here are some examples of the “home state” rule:
My children lived in Alabama their whole lives. We just moved to Washington 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 Florida for six months. We moved to Washington five months ago. Because the kids haven’t lived in Washington for six months yet, Florida is still the children’s home state. If I want to file for custody right now, I will probably need to file in Florida.
My children lived in Michigan for their whole lives until we moved to Washington six months ago. Because the children have lived in Washington for six months, Washington is likely their “home state.” I will likely need to file for custody in Washington.
My children lived in Washington until they left to live with their father in Alabama two months ago. Because they haven’t lived in Alabama for six months yet, their home state is still Washington. If I want to file for custody, I can most likely file in Washington.
1 R.C.W. § 26.27.201
2 R.C.W. § 26.27.021(7)