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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Family Law > Military Moves: Does California Have Jurisdiction in my Case?

Military Moves: Does California Have Jurisdiction in my Case?


If you moved around a LOT growing up, odds are you grew up a military kid. Because military service members are subject to being moved every few years, it is not uncommon to feel transient as you go from place to place, base to base, city to city. This can represent an enormous hardship for military families and is often looked at as one (of so many) sacrifices made by military families and their service members.

But what happens when the servicemember and their family need to renegotiate the structure of their family? Items such as divorce proceedings and child custody matters are always ruled over by the state court that has “jurisdiction” but what of families that move so often due to military service? Who has jurisdiction over those cases? This article aims to address some of these questions.

What is “Jurisdiction”?

“Jurisdiction” refers to the ability/power of a court to oversee a particular matter. A court will only be able to oversee divorce or custody proceedings that it has “jurisdiction” over. Every state has slightly different rules on when a court will see that people or a case have moved into their “jurisdiction.”

The legal concept of jurisdiction is valid, and works to ensure that only a court with legitimate interest in the case can hear and process the case. For example, a couple who was married in California, and raised their child in California would have their case heard in a California court of law. Cased on the facts presented, California clearly would have an interest in hearing this case – California has jurisdiction in this case. The legal concept of jurisdiction would prevent one spouse from, for example, fleeing California and filing for divorce and custody in Florida, a state they had never been to before, simply in order to make the custody proceedings more difficult for the other parent.

The idea of jurisdiction makes a lot of sense in the majority of situations – but these rules can get a bit muddled when more than one court could, potentially, have interest in the case. For example, what if both spouses were born and raised in Maryland, and married there. That same couple joins the military, and is stationed in Tennessee, where their child is born. That same couple is then stationed in California, where they live for a year or so before deciding to file divorce and child custody actions. With so many moves, military members may have a number of states that are significant in their life story. What is the appropriate court/jurisdiction then?

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a law enacted at the Federal level – meaning that it applies to all states. While the act is not solely applicable to military families, it often plays a role in military family custody actions. The goal of the act is to protect minors, and one way it does that is to help determine where jurisdiction over a child custody matter will lie.

The UCCJEA is a complicated set of regulations. Conferring with a professional attorney is key to making sure you understand how this law may apply to you and affect your case. However, the UCCJEA establishes rules surrounding what qualifies as a child’s “home state.”

Usually, a child’s “home state” is going to be where the child has lived for the six months immediately preceding the legal action at issue.

It might be possible to find yourself “in-between” two jurisdictions. For example, if you lived in New Mexico for two years, but four months ago you moved to the San Francisco area. There are options available, and a skilled California family law attorney can help you best understand your options as you move forward.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

The experienced San Francisco family law attorneys at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young have the experience you need to provide skilled guidance on any family law matter. Contact our office today to begin speaking with our team about the specifics of your case.


Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (bwjp.org)


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