How to Win A UCCJEA Custody Battle In Tennessee Or Almost Any State
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How to Win A UCCJEA Custody Battle In Tennessee Or Almost Any State

Winning a custody battle can be difficult. It's even more so if you're a male. And if you're not married to your child's mother your chances decrease further. And in the Bible belt state of Tennessee with the hearings presided over by a judge who reveals in open court, "I prefer to give the child to the mother if I can," one would think it's impossible. But it's not.

I know because I did it.

Facing all of those above circumstances, I won with a little help from the law, a good lawyer and a bit of luck. I'm hoping this Factoidz piece removes the luck factor for you.

In my case my ex-girlfriend decided to violate a law known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) which, in part, governs when a parent can move from one state to another. This act is not a federal law but it has been adopted in all 50 states. She took my child and moved without giving me notice or an opportunity to fight the move in court. Prior to her move I had never heard of the law, but it was the primary reason that the judge admitted he had no alternative but to grant me full custody of my daughter, contingent on her mother failing to move within 50 miles of my residence. Either way I knew that day I had received exactly what I wanted. My daughter will grow up in the state of Tennessee, not 1,500 miles away which was her mother's intention.

The luck? It came in at her birth. In Tennessee an unmarried father can legitimize a child by giving her his last name and signing documents accepting responsibility for fathering the child and taking legal responsibility for paying support, any medical expenses, etc. Fortunately I did legitimize her, not realizing at the time that it gave me all the rights under the UCCJEA a married man enjoys. Had I failed to do so my only right would have been the right to pay child support UCCJEA would not have addressed my situation.

Once again, UCCJEA is the law in all 50 states; however, the particulars of custody situations vary so definitely check the laws in your state.

Here's my advice for anyone who is invilved in a custody battle, particularly if you believe your rights afforded by the UCCJEA has been violated, based on my experience:

  • Time is of the essence, hire a lawyer the day you realize a problem exists and if you're past that point, hire one now
  • Do not expect a one-hearing quick and easy judgement just because your ex vilolated the law
  • Do support your case by following your lawyer's advice, providing requested docs quickly and answering discovery questions honestly
  • Make a photo album showing your child's environment at your home, day care and school...don't tell the judge, show him
  • Facts supporting that your local schools are quality can help if the decision comes down to "what's in the best interest of the child"
  • Educate yourself because not all lawyers stay up to date with changing laws or recent cases that may set a precedent..
  • If you suspect you may go to court stop all contact with your ex other than paying support and other items as agreed or exchanging the child

You may be facing a lengthy battle with numerous hearings, court-ordered tests, mediation, etc. It will be exhausting and may be expensive, my case cost me $35,000 I didn't have, nearly driving me to bankruptcy.

So why do it? Because the prize- a better relationship with your own flesh and blood- is too great a thing to let the chance to have it slip through our fingers. With the resulting sadness, emptiness and "might have beens"  left to echo in our minds for the remainder of our short time on earth.

For most of us there are very few times in modern life when we will be called upon to battle for anything as important as our family ties. Few times when we must utilize every resource we can call upon be it physical. mental and spiritual in a clear battle between right and wrong. Win or lose this is your chance to show that your character is solid.    

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