When California Should Take Jurisdiction over a Foreign Country

Mother [M] is a world-ranked profession tennis player. She was born in Belarus and is a resident of Belarus and Monaco. Beginning in 2003, M has spent most of her career travelling all over the world to compete in professional tennis matches. Father [F] is a United States citizen. He met M in 2015 when she came to his then-home state of Hawaii and the two began an intimate relationship. In December of 2016, M gave birth to their child [C] in Santa Monica California. As soon as C was old enough, the family continued to travel all over the world for M’s tennis matches.

In May of 2017, M filed a motion in a Belarus court requesting residency for C. She stated that, although still together, she and F were not getting along and he threatened to move back to California and take C with him. The Belarus court set a hearing for C’s residency in June of 2017. The court mailed a copy of its court date to F at his and M’s address in Belarus.

When the trial date came, M, F and C were out of the country for M’s tennis matches and neither attended the trial. However, M’s mother attended in M’s place. F never received notice of the trial. The court found C to be a resident of Belarus.

In July of 2017, M and F ended their relationship, and F returned to California. A few days later M and C also returned to California (M has a residence in Manhattan Beach), so she could prepare for the US Open in August of 2017.

On July 20, 2017, F filed his petition in Los Angeles, and six days later he sought temporary emergency orders on child custody and visitation of C. That day, mother responded by arguing the court did not have jurisdiction over child custody because neither M, F, nor C resided in California, and all issues should be determined in Belarus. The court issued temporary orders preventing the parties from removing C. from Los Angeles County. The court also required the surrender of C’s passports, and gave F temporary physical custody with visitation for M.

At a later hearing, the court granted M’s motion to quash F’s petition under the Universal Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act (UCCJEA). A portion of the act holds that once custody proceedings began in a court of jurisdiction, California would not interfere. The court determined Belarus had jurisdiction.

F appealed claiming that the Belarus court could not have jurisdiction because F was never given notice of the hearing.

The Appellate Court agreed with F and reversed the trial court’s decision: “We conclude the trial court erred. The UCCJEA mandates that before a child custody determination is made, notice and an opportunity to be heard must be given to all persons entitled to notice. Because father received no notice of the Belarus action, and because notice was not given ‘in a manner reasonably calculated to give actual notice’ the Belarus court did not have jurisdiction in conformity with UCCJEA [protocol].”

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