Interstate Child Custody Issues Can Be Tricky

Mother was born in Hawaii, but moved to California. As a California resident, she met and moved in with Father. There were many problems in the relationship, including the Father’s alleged abuse with alcohol. Mother became pregnant, but the problems remained within the relationship.

Mother wanted to move back to Hawaii, and she and Father fought about her leaving. They came to an agreement whereby Mother would go back to Hawaii and have the baby, and then return to California when the child was two weeks old. Mother now says she never intended to honor that agreement.

Mother took a leave of absence from her job in California, and travelled to Hawaii. She gave birth to the child in Hawaii with Father in attendance. She returned to California with the child six weeks later. The next day, Father went into California’s Yolo County Superior Court and filed a parentage action. In court, Mother and Father agreed to a parenting plan, joint custody of the child, and that neither parent would leave the state without the other’s consent.

Less than a week later, Mother notified the court that she would be filing for parentage of the child in Hawaii under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). At a later hearing, Mother claimed that she had no intention of returning to California, and only agreed to do so to prevent conflict with Father. She wanted to raise her child in Hawaii.

The trial court determined that Mother did not have the intent to reside in Hawaii. She did not quit her job in California, never applied for a driver’s license or looked for a residence in Hawaii, nor moved any of her personal belongings to Hawaii. Therefore, the trial court concluded, Mother never intended to permanently reside in Hawaii, and that jurisdiction remained with the state of California.

Mother appealed.

The Appellate Court overturned the trial court’s decision.

One section of the UCCJEA states that a child under six months of age is under the jurisdiction of the state in which he/she has lived since birth. Since Mother gave birth to the child in Hawaii and the child lived in Hawaii after his birth, in this situation, Hawaii was his home state and California had no jurisdiction over him.

Congress passed the UCCJEA to reduce the problems arising when multiple jurisdictions are involved in child custody cases. However, jurisdiction between states can be very complicated, and working within the UCCJEA statutes can be very difficult. It is highly recommended when interstate jurisdictional issues arise, the parties get help from family law specialists.

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