When parents get a divorce, one or both of them may ask for joint or sole child custody rights. The case is generally filed in the child's home state. For legal purposes, the child's home state is the state where he or she has lived with a parent or certain other adults for at least six consecutive months. If a child is under six months old, the case can be filed in any state where he or she has lived.
In the event that a parent moves to a new state with a child, that parent must wait six months before filing a child custody petition in that state. Until then, the other parent may file in the state where they had lived previously. However, this requirement may be waived in certain cases assuming that the parent who moved the child has significant connections to the new state.
The court in the home state must also be willing to transfer jurisdiction to the new state where a case has been filed. In some cases, an emergency order may be granted at any time if the child has been abandoned or if the child or a sibling is in danger of being abused. Should such an order be made, it may only be in effect until a judge in the child's home state can make a permanent ruling.
Child custody determinations are made by the court with the child's best interests as the paramount consideration. The advice and counsel of a family law attorney is often sought by a parent who is attempting to gain sole legal and physical custody of a child or who is seeking a modification of an existing order.