Determining Your Child’s Legal “Home” State and Whether You Can File for Custody in California

USA state mapThere are many things you have to consider when you decide that it is necessary to go to court regarding the custody of your child. Aside from the many factual elements that may go into your case, there are some very basic legal issues that could make or break your effort to get your case heard and decided in your favor. One such issue is jurisdiction because, if the court where you file your case doesn’t have it, the judge cannot give you the relief you’re seeking, no matter how strong the factual side of your case is. In one case originating from San Bernardino County, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that a father could pursue custody in the California courts, since this state qualified as his child’s “home” state, and, as a result, the court here did have jurisdiction to rule on his petition.

The case’s path through the courts began in the summer of 2013, when the father filed a custody petition in San Bernardino County. As part of his claims in the petition, he asserted that the child was born in Miami in 2011 and that the child and her mother had lived in Twentynine Palms since April 2012. The father also alleged that the mother took the child to Florida in March 2013, under the guise of a short trip, but had been out of the state for three months.

The mother asked the court to throw the petition out. In her court papers, she argued that the child had been a resident of Florida her whole life. The mother and child allegedly visited California frequently from August 2012 to March 2013, but she never relocated or intended to relocate to California. The father then accused the mother of lying to the court, pointing to a child support petition the mother filed related to a child from a different relationship, in which she asserted that she was a California resident.

Although the trial court rejected many of the mother’s claims, the judge ultimately sided with her in refusing to hear the father’s petition. Contrary to the mother’s assertions, the court concluded that the child had resided in California from August 2012 to March 2013. However, since the child had not resided in the state for fully three months immediately prior to the filing of the custody petition, California courts could not have jurisdiction.

The father appealed and won at that stage. The key to this case was a piece of legislation called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which is designed to avoid scenarios in which courts from different states or countries issue competing orders deciding the same family law disputes. The UCCJEA established a set of criteria for determining a child’s “home” state. In order for a court to decide any legal dispute, that court must have jurisdiction. Under the UCCJEA, the courts of a child’s home state are the ones that have jurisdiction to hear custody and visitation disputes.

In this case, the trial court should have ruled that California had jurisdiction to rule on the father’s petition. There are two ways for a state to qualify as a home state under the UCCJEA. One is if the child lived with a parent in that state for at least six months immediately prior to the filing of the petition. California could also be a child’s home state under the UCCJEA if the child lived here “within six months before the commencement of the proceeding, and the child is absent from this state, but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.”

In this couple’s case, the second scenario applied. The trial court had already found that the child resided in California for seven months, until March 2013. Although the child had been absent from California from March 2013 forward, the father had remained in the state from that date until he filed his petition, so California still maintained jurisdiction to hear the petition for custody.

When you go to court regarding a family law issue, you have to make sure that your case is sound both factually and legally. While you may feel you have a very strong command of the facts of your case, any case can benefit from an experienced professional who is well-versed in the law, especially if you are a long-distance parent who is, under the rules of jurisdiction, required to litigate your case here despite living far away. The skilled San Diego child custody attorneys at Doppelt & Forney have been assisting clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista, for many years and are ready to represent you regarding your custody and other family law issues. For a free consultation, reach out to Doppelt & Forney through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Court Determines Jurisdiction for Child Custody Dispute, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 12, 2016

California Court Defers to Virginia Court’s Jurisdiction Over Child Custody Case, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 16, 2015