While the borders between Massachusetts and Rhode Island appear to be incredibly permeable, this is just not the case when dealing with custody of children. With few exceptions, the home state of the child is where a court proceeding for custody of that child must be commenced. The home state is defined as the state he or she has resided in for six months prior to the beginning of custody proceedings. Put a different way, the residency of the child, not the parents, determines where an initial custody proceeding must be brought.
Even though they’re right next to each other, the child custody jurisdiction laws in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have some significant differences. While the two states agree that, with few exceptions, the home state of a child controls where the initial child custody proceeding should be held, the child custody jurisdiction laws of these states diverge from there. This is because Massachusetts has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) and Rhode Island has enacted the successor to the UCCJA, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This is one of the few areas where Massachusetts’ body of law lags behind Rhode Island’s. Some form of the UCCJEA has been adopted by every state in the United States, except Massachusetts.
One of the more notable differences between the UCCJA in Massachusetts and the UCCJEA in Rhode Island is that under the Massachusetts UCCJA, Massachusetts doesn’t retain “continuing and exclusive jurisdiction” to modify a child custody determination if the child leaves Massachusetts. Basically, if a child leaves Massachusetts for six months, jurisdiction over custody of that child will pass to the child’s new home state.
In Rhode Island though, the Family Court will maintain “continuing and exclusive jurisdiction” over custody of the child until (1) the Family Court determines that neither the child, nor the child’s parents have a significant connection with Rhode Island and that “substantial evidence” is no longer available in Rhode Island concerning the child’s “care, protection, training and personal relationships”, or (2) the Rhode Island Family Court or a court of another State determines that the child and the child’s parents have moved out of Rhode Island. In essence, for Massachusetts to lose jurisdiction over custody of a child, only the child must leave Massachusetts. In Rhode Island, the child leaving the state doesn’t necessarily deny Rhode Island jurisdiction over custody of that child.
Both the UCCJA and the UCCJEA were drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, and are incredibly dense and confusing. If you have a multi-state custody question, be sure to contact a knowledgeable attorney for guidance.