Who has UCCJEA jurisdiction?

This issue often comes up. Which court will have jurisdiction to modify existing court orders. In this case, the 2nd district correctly determines that the juvenile court had UCCJEA jurisdiction to remove a child from mother’s custody and terminate jurisdiction with custody order awarding father sole legal and physical custody with no visitation for mother. The divorce happened in Orange County, but the kids went to live with their mother in South Carolina. This is a good analysis done by the court.

In re E.W.

(July 29, 2019)

California Court of Appeal 2 Civil B295083 (Div 8) 37 Cal.App.5th 1167, 250 Cal.Rptr.3d 372, 2019 FA 1898, per Grimes, J (Bigelow, PJ and Stratton, J, concurring). Los Angeles County: Byrdsong, referee, affirmed. For appellant: Nicole Williams, (949) 230-9775. For DCFS: Principal Deputy County Counsel Stephanie Jo Reagan, (323) 580-3101. CFLP §H.51.

F.D. and her husband were divorced in California on January 2, 2014. The court awarded them joint legal custody of their child, E.W., who would live with F.D. in South Carolina, but spend nine weeks with the father in Los Angeles during the summer. Shortly before an August 2018 visit was to end, E.W., then 13, told his father that F.D. had physically abused him. The Los Angeles County Dept. Of Children and Family Services then filed a dependency petition, based on that allegation.

At a detention hearing on August 21, F.D.’s attorney suggested to the juvenile court that “’there may be a UCCJEA issue here.’“ However, the father’s attorney countered that there was no UCCJEA issue because the original custody order was issued by an Orange County trial court and California has continuing exclusive UCCJEA jurisdiction. The juvenile court then found that the UCCJEA did not apply. The court then declared E.W. a dependent of the juvenile court, removed him from F.D.’s custody and control, released him to his father’s home, and terminated jurisdiction with an exit order awarding sole legal and physical custody of him to his father. The court ordered no visitation for F.D.

F.D. appealed, but the Second District affirmed.

California got there first. . .
F.D. contended that the lower court should have conducted a hearing to determine whether California or South Carolina was E.W.’s home state for purposes of UCCJEA jurisdiction. The justices emphasized that the UCCJEA does apply to this case, since it governs a California trial court’s jurisdiction to make custody orders. A California court has UCCJEA jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination, the panel explained, where this state is the home state of the child on the date that the proceeding commenced. Once the trial court has made an initial custody determination, the justices continued, it has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction until the court determines that neither the child nor the child and one parent (or person acting as a parent) has a significant connection with this state and that substantial evidence is no longer available here regarding the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or that neither the child nor his-her parents currently resides in this state.

The justices pointed out that none of those circumstances existed in this case. They noted that F.D. argued that South Carolina should have UCCJEA jurisdiction because substantial evidence regarding the abuse allegations was in that state. That may be so, the panel reasoned, but F.D. failed to show that neither E.W. or E.W. and one parent no longer had a significant connection to California (both conditions must be met). F.D., the justices found, presented no evidence that a deterioration in the father-son relationship made it unreasonable for the trial court to have continuing jurisdiction. Moreover, she had not and could not contend that the Orange County trial court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction to make the initial custody order, since California was clearly E.W.’s home state at the time. Summing up, the panel found nothing to suggest that the juvenile court could not properly exercise continuing exclusive UCCJEA jurisdiction and they affirmed its orders.

As the justices tell us, F.D.’s appeal focused solely on whether the juvenile court had UCCJEA jurisdiction to make the custody orders that it issued. She doesn’t question the fact that the UCCJEA applies in juvenile court as well as in family court. And, she doesn’t make the same mistake that the juvenile court made when it said that the UCCJEA did not apply. However, she does make the mistake of choosing the UCCJEA provisions that would give her the result that she wanted and ignoring the rest. She should have remembered that UCCJEA issues are determined strictly by the statutory provisions and leave little, if any, room for substantial compliance or discretionary relief.

This is a case of continuing and exclusive jurisdiction. California made the initial custody orders and California maintains that jurisdiction until it releases it. Both the child and the father have significant contacts with California.

Clearly a UCCJEA fight can have significant consequences in any custody proceeding. The attorneys at Edgar Family Law have years of experience dealing with custody issues both in family law court and in the juvenile dependency court. Contact our office for a consultation today.

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