Can Juvenile Courts Rule on Family Law Cases?

In this case, the Fourth District affirmed a San Bernardino County juvenile court judge’s orders at a combined jurisdictional and disposition hearing.

“The juvenile court found the allegations in both petitions true and ordered family reunification services for Mother and A.W. The juvenile court found it was not in L.M.’s best interest for family reunification services to be offered to her father D.M. The juvenile court found that ICWA did not apply. CFS’s jurisdictional/dispositional report again did not raise, and the juvenile court did not address, UCCJEA jurisdiction. Similarly, UCCJEA jurisdiction was not raised or addressed when A.W. made his first appearance at the 12-month review hearing in February 2018.”

The appellate panel held “that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA; Fam. Code, § 3400 et seq.), which governs which state is to entertain a dependency case, is a mandatory rule, but nevertheless does not regulate a California trial court’s fundamental jurisdiction. For this reason, it can be forfeited by a failure to raise the issue in juvenile court, as was the case here.” 

It said:

“It is clear enough that the rules governing jurisdiction in the UCCJEA are mandatory. Given that the main goals of the UCCJEA include “avoid[ing] jurisdictional competition [and] relitigation of another state’s or country’s custody decisions” (In re Gloria A., supra, 213 Cal.App.4th at p. 482), ensuring that only one state exercise jurisdiction at a time outside of emergencies is a crucial part of how the UCCJEA is supposed to function. (See §§ 3421, 3424; City of Santa Monica v. Gonzalez (2008) 43 Cal.4th 905, 924 [“Invariably, ‘courts look to the procedure’s purpose or function. If the procedure is essential to promote the statutory design, it is “mandatory” and noncompliance has an invalidating effect.’”]; see also County of San Diego v. State of California (1997) 15 Cal.4th 68, 87.)

However, although the jurisdictional rules of the UCCJEA are mandatory, we are not persuaded that the Legislature intended them to be used in California in a manner that implicates a court’s fundamental jurisdiction. In this state, fundamental jurisdiction over juvenile dependency cases such as this is governed by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, which states that a child described by that section “is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.”

“…Over time, however, this statement from Marriage of Ben-Yehoshua, supra, 91 Cal.App.3d 259 has evolved into a statement that UCCJEA jurisdiction can never arise from stipulation, consent, waiver or estoppel. Such a broad rule is not supported by Marriage of Ben-Yehoshua or the UCCJEA itself. (Compare Plas v. Superior Court (1984) 155 Cal.App.3d 1008, 1013-1014 [citing Marriage of Ben-Yehoshua for the statement that “[t]here is no provision in [the predecessor act] for jurisdiction to be established by reason of the presence of the parties or by stipulation or consent”] with In re A.C., supra, 130 Cal.App.4th at p. 860 [citing Plas and Ben-Yehoshua for the statement that UCCJEA jurisdiction “cannot be conferred by stipulation, consent, waiver, or estoppel”].) The UCCJEA merely contains no provision affirmatively providing for jurisdiction by such means, and it does not go further. The absence of such a provision in the UCCJEA does not mean that it establishes fundamental jurisdiction. Accordingly, the UCCJEA does not require that a parent such as A.W. should be allowed to silently accede to jurisdiction, or neglect to raise it, for years while parental fitness is adjudicated, only to assert a lack of jurisdiction for the first time after a termination order. We therefore find that the Marriage of Ben-Yohushua rule does not show that UCCJEA jurisdiction is fundamental jurisdiction.”

  1. Conclusion

The UCCJEA does not govern fundamental jurisdiction. As a result, A.W.’s contention that the juvenile court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction “cannot be raised for the first time on appeal” (Kabran, supra, 2 Cal.5th at p. 347). The issue has been forfeited.

For a full read of the court’s opinion, click here

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