Sometimes the UCCJEA Can be Multi-Jurisdictional

Mother [M] and Father [F] were Ventura County, California residents. They had two children in the custody of the Ventura County Human Services Agency [HSA] that had been permanently removed from the parents. Both M and F had numerous problems with the law and drug problems. Both of them had been convicted numerous times on charges of child endangerment, domestic abuse and drug abuse.

In April of 2017, M gave birth to twins in Clark County, Nevada. Within two weeks, the county’s Department of Family Services [DFS] took custody of the twins, because the babies tested positive for methamphetamines. (M later admitted that she used methamphetamines during her pregnancy, and that she went to Nevada to give birth solely to prevent Ventura County from taking the twins away from her.)

DFS and the Clark County Juvenile Court had to determine whether to keep custody of the twins and jurisdiction in Nevada, or return the twins to California under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. (The UCCJEA is a series of laws adopted by all states, except Massachusetts, to determine jurisdiction and enforcement of family laws when two or more states are involved in the process.)

The judge in Clark County contacted the Ventura County Court system, speaking with Judge Cody numerous times to determine which court would better serve the needs of the children and parents in this case based on the UCCJEA. The Clark County Judge determined it would be in the best interests of everyone to allow Ventura County to hear the case.

In July of 2017, the HSA filed juvenile dependency petitions regarding the twins under California’s Welfare and Institutions Codes of child endangerment. The HSA also informed the court that the twins were currently in a confidential foster home in Nevada. A hearing was scheduled for August 1, 2017.

At the hearing the attorney for M argued that since the twins were in Nevada, Nevada should retain jurisdiction. Judge Cody disagreed and granted custody of the children to HSA. (Under the UCCJEA, Nevada turned over custody to HSA.) At a later hearing, HSA argued that both M and F’s parental rights regarding the twins should be terminated for the same reasons as their parental rights had been terminated regarding their other children.

M appealed arguing that the UCCJEA states that any jurisdictional issues should take place in the child’s home state – in this case Nevada.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court stating that the UCCJEA also allows for change of jurisdiction if the home state refuses to accept jurisdiction (as here where the Nevada court refused jurisdiction) and “…the child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence.”

Here both parents lived in Ventura County. Most of their families lived in Ventura County. The Ventura County HSA was very familiar with M and F’s problems. And, further, M just went to Nevada to give birth and prevent Ventura County from obtaining custody of the children.

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