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Which court has jurisdiction in an interstate custody dispute?

Mississippi is one of the states that has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, a law designed to provide guidance to courts when making decisions regarding child custody. The UCCJEA ensures consistency in interstate child custody decrees and prevents one parent from obtaining custody after kidnapping a child.

One parent may be granted sole custody of a child whose other parent lives in another state. The non-custodial parent may attempt to overcome the existing child custody decree by asking a court in the other state to settle their custody dispute. In such cases, the non-custodial parent will most likely be unsuccessful because according to the UCCJEA, state courts must generally defer to existing determinations that originated in other states unless certain circumstances exist.

Under the federal statute, courts can only make child custody decisions in one of four circumstances. First, the court must be located in the child's home state, which can be established by showing that the child lived with their parent in that state for at least six months prior to the action. The second circumstance that would allow a court to make a child custody determination is if the child has significant connections in the state to individuals such as grandparents, friends, teachers and doctors.

Third, if a child was removed from another state for safety reasons such as abuse, neglect or abandonment, the court may be able to make a custody determination. The final circumstance is one in which no state can meet any of the first three criteria. Parents who wrongfully remove a child from the current state in which they are residing in order to establish the new state as the child's home state will be denied custody. If more than one court is qualified to render a child custody decision under the UCCJEA, only one may issue a judgment and that first court's determination will be binding.

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