Many people who are involved in child custody disputes where the other parent has moved away may be confused about where to petition the court to enforce their rights. This can be especially problematic for unmarried fathers who have not been in contact with the mother of their children for quite some time.
Under California law, a parent or a child must live within the state for a minimum of 180 days before jurisdiction may be established. This is a function of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and every state in the U.S. has adopted some form of this law so that devious parties can avoid forum shopping.
For cases established in California, the court will retain jurisdiction until one of a specific set of actions has occurred (e.g. all the parties moving away from the state). The same rationale will apply as to what county in California will retain jurisdiction.
In child custody cases, the question of jurisdiction is quite important. It could mean the difference between having the case heard in Sacramento County, Placer County, El Dorado County or some other venue.
Questions surrounding jurisdiction may be difficult to answer if a party (or a couple) has continually relocated without establishing a long term residence. In these instances, courts may look to other factors that may provide information about domicile, such as where taxes were filed, or where they were employed or where children have attended school.
Given the complexity with jurisdictional questions, it is best to discuss your questions with an experienced family law attorney.
The preceding is general information and is not legal advice.