The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), which was developed in 1997 and was adopted by California in 1999, governs when a child is a resident of a state. The UCCJEA governs whether a state’s court system may decide on any outstanding child custody issues.  The law was drafted to replace the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act specifically to address omissions regarding initial child custody determinations.  (Wikipedia) On March 14, 2014, the Fourth Appellate District  further clarified the above legal issue.  In Re Gino C. ___ Cal. App. 4th ___ (2014) (Fourth Appellate District, filed 3/14/14).  Please contact our network of family law attorneys for more in-depth information on child custody issues and a FREE CONSULTATION on other family law issues.

The children in In Re Gino C. are U.S. Citizens, residents of Mexico for the past four years and living with their mother who is also a U.S. Citizen.  They were traveling from Mexico to Nevada by bus when the mother was arrested at a border checkpoint for being under the influence of a controlled substance.  The children were taken into protection by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (“Agency”) after their mother’s arrest.  After being released from jail, the mother stated that she could not take care of her children and that she was going to the maternal grandparent of the children in Nevada.  Therefore, the Agency filed a petition claiming that the children were subject to substantial risk from the mother due to drug abuse and possible mental illness.  The Superior Court held three jurisdictional hearings in which it discussed whether California Superior Court was the correct jurisdiction according to the UCCJEA.  The trial court held that it was able to enter a temporary emergency order.  In the final jurisdictional hearing, the trial court held that the temporary jurisdiction could be become permanent if Mexico does not have any child custody proceedings regarding these children.

The UCCJEA states that jurisdiction in child custody matters belongs to the home state of the child, which 

is defined as the state in which the child resided for the past 6 months.  A court may issue a temporary emergency order, but may not proceed any further unless the home state is notified of the proceedings in the state in question and refuses to initiate its own proceedings in its court.  In this case, the trial court acknowledged that Mexico was the home state of the children in question, but still made its own order permanent based on the fact that there have not been any proceedings initiated in Mexico.  The father and mother of the children objected to the order and appealed the court’s decision.  The Appellate Court held that the trial court did not abide by the UCCJEA.  The Court held that when the court wishes to take permanent jurisdiction it must contact the home state (Mexico) or provide a time-limited order that allows the parents to initiate proceedings in the home state.  Failing to do this, the trial court abused its discretion and thus the Appellate Court reversed its ruling and remanded the case to the trial court.

A court cannot therefore extend jurisdiction just because the child is located within the state and/or the state has power over the child.  The important fact is where the child resided prior to the initiation of the child custody proceedings.

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