The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act is a body of laws that help us to determine which court in which state is the appropriate one to make decisions regarding child custody and visitation. In one version or another the UCCJEA has been adopted by all 50 states. UCCJEA cases can be challenging for lawyers, and even more so for self-represented parties. A published opinion has just been issued for an Alameda County case (I love reading about the home team courts) that gives us a simple overview of how courts resolve choice of state questions. The big ballon of thought by the UCCJEA is that custody and visitation disputes should resolved by the courts for the state that the child resides in. Here is how it plays out.
Marvin and Keisha lived with their son in Texas. In January, 2011 a Texas court issued an order giving the parents shared custody. In August, 2011 Mom and the son moved to California. In May, 2012 dad showed up at the boy’s California daycare, checked the boy out, and took him to Nevada, where dad was apparently living. In August, 2012 mom applied to the California court for a domestic violence restraining order against dad. As part of the domestic violence application she requested child custody orders. The California court issued orders consistent with mom’s requests. In November, 2012 mom initiated a family court proceeding (as distinguished from the domestic violence proceeding) requesting custody and visitation orders. Father opposed the family law proceeding, arguing that California could not hear the case because the UCCJEA analysis confined the case to the Texas court. Hearing was set for February, 2013.
Here is what I think is nifty about the UCCJEA. When more than one state could be the possible right choice to resolve custody and visitation issues, the judges are supposed to call each other up and talk it through on the phone. Quite civilized! That is what happened in this case. On January 31, 2013 the California judge, the Texas judge, and the Nevada judge (apparently dad must have started a case in Nevada, although it is not clear from the opinion) all got on a conference call and had a chat. During the call the Texas judge said something like “dad lives in Nevada and mom lives in Cali. No reason for Texas to be involved. I don’t want it.” The California judge said something like “mom and child lived in California until dad took the boy to Nevada without mom’s consent so I think California is the boys home, and I want the case.” The Nevada judge punted by saying nothing.
Based on the opinions of each judge, at the February, 2013 hearing in California the California trial judge made the decision that under the UCCJEA California was the appropriate state to resolve child custody. She then awarded custody to mom. Dad was unhappy so he appealed. His main argument for purposes of our discussion was that California did not have jurisdiction. The appellate opinion can be a bit confusing the first time you read through it, but it does give a nice overview of UCCJEA decision making. Bottom line is that the California judge was right. The three judges had their call. Texas said no, California said yes, Nevada said nothing. That opened the door for the California judge to issue custody orders, which she did. Well done Alameda county judge!
Please click here to read the original A137861 Court of Appeal opinion.
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