The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJEA) controls inter-state custody disputes, which are common in today’s society. One parent may live in Florida, while the other now lives in Oregon or another state. The UCCJEA helps with this situation by establishing jurisdiction over a child custody case in only one state and protecting that court’s orders from changes in another state (provided the original state retains jurisdiction over the case). This makes it much more difficult for a non-custodial parent to take a child to another state and petition a court in that state for a favorable change to an existing custody order.
Late last year, a mother appealed a court’s denial of a verified petition for emergency child pick-up and return to Florida.
The child lived in Florida since birth and had been in the custody of the mother his entire life. The mother brought the child to his paternal great-grandmother’s in April 2016 with the understanding that she’d return to pick him up on June 17th. However, a day before the scheduled pickup, the father took the child to his cousin in Georgia. The father’s cousin, the respondent in this case, filed a dependency action in Georgia. Two weeks after the start of the Georgia proceeding, the mother filed a UCCJEA affidavit and petition in Florida.
The Florida court denied the mother’s petition, explaining that it had conferred with the presiding judge in the Georgia juvenile proceeding, who said the pending juvenile action was a dependency case. The judge’s order denied the Verified Petition for Emergency Child Pick Up but “reserve[d] concurrent jurisdiction of this cause for all legal and proper purposes.”
The UCCJEA in Florida and Georgia
Judge Jeffrey T. Kuntz of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Palm Beach noted in his opinion that the UCCJEA is substantially similar in both Florida and Georgia and provides that jurisdiction to determine custody matters is generally limited to the “home state” of the child.”
That’s defined as “the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least 6 consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding.” The six-month provision, Judge Kuntz said quoting an earlier case, “protects a parent such as [the mother here], whose children have been removed from the home state . . ., by insuring that the stay-at-home parent may institute proceedings in his own state rather than being forced to pursue the fleeing parent and the child in another state.”
There was no dispute in this case that the “home state” for the child was Florida… he’d lived in Florida all his life and had no connection to Georgia until he was taken there by someone other than his custodial parent.
Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction
The mother noted in her brief that she filed a Private Dependency Petition in Georgia based on state statutes. Judge Kuntz explained that those statutory provisions provide “temporary emergency jurisdiction” to the courts in each state—but are only applicable if the state where jurisdiction is invoked is not the home state.
Florida and Georgia statues both say temporary emergency jurisdiction is applicable where “the child is present in this state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.”
The UCCJEA provides that “a court with jurisdiction over a custody cause may decline to exercise that jurisdiction if the court ‘determines that it is an inconvenient forum under the circumstances and that a court of another state is a more appropriate forum.'” But an order declining to exercise jurisdiction requires the court to follow specific procedures. The judge said that one of these requirements is that when a Florida court decides to communicate with the court of another state, “[t]he court shall allow the parties to participate in the communication. If the parties elect to participate in the communication, they must be given the opportunity to present facts and legal arguments before a decision on jurisdiction is made.” In addition, the statute states that “a record must be made of a communication under this section. The parties must be informed promptly of the communication and granted access to the record.” Finally, the statute states that the “term ‘record’ means a form of information, including, but not limited to, an electronic recording or transcription by a court reporter which creates a verbatim memorialization of any communication between two or more individuals or entities.”
In this case, the mother filed a motion specifically requesting that the court communicate with the Georgia court. She didn’t ask to be present during the communication, but requested “that there be a written or electronic recording of the communication between courts.” However, there was no evidence of the trial court keeping a record as requested by the mother and required by the statute.
Judge Kuntz said that the Court of Appeal has previously held that the failure to allow a party to participate in the communication with a court in another state requires reversal. Likewise, the failure to maintain a record of communications with the courts of a sister state should also be reversed.
The case was sent back to the district court to allow the Florida court to communicate with the Georgia court after giving notice to the parties and to keep a record of the communication pursuant to the statute. The mother’s petition was granted, and the order from Georgia was quashed. Haugabook v. Jeffcoat-Hultberg, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 19023; 42 Fla. L. Weekly D 68 (Fla. Ct. App. 4th Dist. December 22, 2016).
Parents in different states can have trouble communicating, like the courts in this action. And parents and courts may have different ideas about child custody. Speak with a divorce attorney about your rights, especially as they concern your child or children. Call DeVoe Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney.