Cristian was born in Tucson, Arizona in June of 2006 to Angela H and Mark
I. His parents never married, and Angela assumed custody of Cristian from
his birth. In 2009, Mark was granted visitation rights to Cristian by
the Arizona court system and saw him regularly. In 2011, Angela married
Zachary H and gave birth to their daughter Alice. In March, 2012, Mark
went to Cristian's school to pick him up for his weekend visitation,
but discovered the school was closed for a school holiday, and Cristian
was gone. Angela sent Mark a text telling him she had moved with Cristian
and her new family to California. Mark filed post-judgment proceedings
in Arizona against Angela because she violated Mark's visitation order.
On September 12, 2012, the Arizona court found in Mark's favor and
ordered Angela to return Cristian to Mark. (Angela was not present at
On September 15, 2012, Angela made an emergency operator call to report
abuse in progress. Responding officers found Cristian in the bathtub with
serious bruises all over his body including his genitals. Cristian told
the officers Zachary was trying to cut off his penis with scissors and
burn him with fire-lighted sticks. Cristian also said that Zachary kept
him locked in a closet and beat him. Angela told the officers she never
tried to stop Zachary from abusing Cristian; that Zachary abused her too;
and that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, chronic depression
and manic depression but did not take her prescribed medication for them.
She also told the authorities that she and Zachary moved to California
in 2011, because she knew Mark and his father were sexually abusing Cristian.
(Later, Cristian's school records proved Cristian attended school
through March, 2012.) For his part, Zachary said he thought Cristian had
been molested by Mark and his father, and when he allegedly caught Cristian
trying to molest his four-month-old daughter, "I lost it and hit
him." (Medical examinations showed no indications of abuse, sexual
or otherwise, to Alice, and evidence showed that Mark's father lived
in Mexico and Cristian had never met him.)
Describing the matter as "shocking to me, even after all of these
years," and "one of the worse cases I have seen, where there's
such sadism and such disregard for a child's feelings," the bench
officer in juvenile court sustained allegations under Welfare and Institutions
Code (WIC) section 300, and declared Cristian and Alice dependents of
the juvenile court. He removed the children from Angela's care and
custody and placed them in protective custody – Alice with her Angela's
aunt, and Cristian with Mark in Arizona after Cristian recovered from
his wounds and was released from the hospital. Angela was sent to a woman's
shelter from domestic violence and Zachary went to jail. The juvenile
court retained jurisdiction of Cristian and Alice pending follow-up and
monitoring evaluations. It further agreed to be in contact with the Arizona
court system because of Mark's pending case against Angela for abducting
Cristian, but through clerical error, failed to do so.
Angela appealed the juvenile court's continued jurisdiction based on
the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody and Judicial Enforcement Act). She argued
that once the immediate legal issues of Cristian and Alice were solved
under the WIC, only Arizona had the authority to make future decisions
regarding the children. The appellate court agreed with Angela; but denied
her request citing "harmless error" of the juvenile court.
The UCCJEA governs dependency proceedings for children. It is the exclusive
method for determining the proper court/jurisdiction to decide custody
issues involving a child when that child is subject to a sister state
custody order. It is an agreement between every state in the United States,
and exists to prevent parents (and possibly other persons) from taking
children to other states to get favorable treatment for their side of
child custody issues.
In this case, when the emergency situation ended, Cristian's custody
and other domestic legal issues should have been determined by the court
in Arizona (because Arizona originally took jurisdiction of the case,
the parties (Mark and Angela) and Cristian). However, since no harm was
found in the way the California juvenile court handled the case, the court
would not reverse its findings.
In every case where a request is made to reverse a decision based on error,
there must be some showing that error caused a harm to the party requesting
the reversal. Here, the juvenile court gave custody of Cristian to Mark
and continued to monitor Cristian's progress in Mark's home. Had
jurisdiction been turned over to Arizona as soon as the emergency situation
ended, Cristian would still have been in Mark's custody (having won
his abduction filing against Angela), and Angela would be in no better
position than she was with the findings of the California juvenile court.
Interstate child custody battles can be, and are usually very technical.
When the issue arises, it is always in the best interests of the parties
to have competent legal representation.