Challenge of Custody Order is Declared “Moot” Once Child Turned Eighteen

my-number-665437-m.jpgParents involved in child custody disputes face many questions throughout the proceedings. Decisions must be made and, when determining what is in the best interests of the children, often compromises are reached. The two biggest factors in virtually every custody case is whether one or both parents will have (or share) physical and/or legal custody. But at least one aspect of a child custody case leaves little room for negotiation: when a child reaches 18 years of age, the court loses jurisdiction over the matter. If you are a parent confronting a child custody matter of any sort, it is critical that you contact a San Diego family law attorney who is experienced in the local court rules and procedures.

According to the California Family Code, a “child” is defined as a person who has not yet reached 18 years of age. This particular section of the state code falls under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. A recent case addressed the issue of what happens to the modification of a custody award when the child in question turns 18. Here, in January 2012, the mother asked the court for custody of her then 17 year-old daughter, who had previously been living with her father since 2006. When the father opposed the mother’s request, the parties attempt to mediate a custody plan was unsuccessful.

The mediator met with the parents and the child, and received information (via voicemail messages) from the child’s therapist regarding her emotional state, treatment and medication. The mediator presented the court with a recommendation that the child’s residence be changed from the father’s home in Oakland to the mother’s in Santa Cruz at the end of the school year. The parents received the recommendation three days prior to the court hearing. The father raised the following objections: 1) he had only just received the information a few days before the hearing, and 2) the mediator never spoke directly with the child’s therapist. The court postponed the hearing to give the mediator time to speak with the therapist. The father then submitted a “letter brief” to the court, objecting to the mediator’s recommendation and emphasizing why the child belonged with him.

In May 2012, the court adopted the mediator’s unchanged recommendations. The father ultimately appealed the decision, challenging the modification of custody. The court asked the father to provide a “brief” on whether the appeal is “moot.” Under California law, an appeal is moot when an event occurs which renders it impossible for a court to grant relief to the appellant. The child in this case turned 18 in February 2013.

The father claimed that his appeal is not moot under the “contributing public interest” exception. Such an exception may be found when the appeal raises a question of continuing public interest that is likely to occur. The court failed to find that father’s appeal rose to the level of contributing public interest, noting that there was no challenge to the constitutionality of any law, nor did he show how any segment of society would be affected by the resolution of the issues presented in this case. According to the court, the appeal in this case affected only an individual child for a short time period: the nine months remaining of her minority, which has now passed.

Although this is an unpublished decision, the court’s underlying reasoning could inform later decisions in this jurisdiction. As we can see in this case, there are many factors that can impact the outcome of a child custody dispute. It is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand and preserve your family’s rights.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, you are encouraged to contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

Appeal of an Order Modifying Child Custody and Support Must Include Adequate Appellate Record

California Family Code Governs Determination of Subject Matter Jurisdiction of Child Custody Case

Families Cautioned Against Self-Representation in Child Custody Cases