Recent Published Case re: Home State for UCCJEA Child Custody Orders

In the recently published case of Schneer v. LLaurado, (12/9/2015, Court of Appeal, Fourth Dist., Div. 2) the Court of Appeals reviewed a case out of San Bernardino County involving the question of the “home state” of a minor child for purposes of determining what state should have exclusive and continuing jurisdiction to enter child custody and visitation orders.

The facts of the case involve a minor child born in June 2011 in Florida to the Father and Mother.  The parties lived together with the child in Twentynine Palms, California from April 2012 onward.  Father filed his petition for custody on June 24, 2013, alleging that the Mother took the child to Florida to visit the maternal grandparents.  The Father believed the Mother would return with the child and he testified that the visit was supposed to be short term, but at the time the Father’s petition was filed the Mother had been in Florida for more than 3 months with no scheduled date to return.  On these facts, the case seems pretty simple and that California would certainly have jurisdiction under the “home state” provision of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which allows a court in California to enter an initial custody order, because the home state is defined as:

A child’s HOME STATE under the UCCJEA means “Home state” means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period. (Fam. Code 3402(g))

In simple terms, the home state is where the child lived for the six months immediately preceding the filing of a case.  Without “home state” jurisdiction, California courts do not have the authority to make an initial child custody determination.

But the case gets far more interesting.  Mother argued that she actually remained a resident of Florida and was just visiting California for weeks at a time.  Mother denied that she had any intent to relocate to Florida.  However, Mother testified at the hearing that she and child had an “extended stay” in California from August 2012 to early March 2013, returning once a month to Florida.

Ultimately, the trial court found that the child resided in California until March 2013, but stated that she had not lived here for six consecutive months immediately before the petition was filed since the child was in Florida with the mother for about 4 months before Father filed his petition.  The Court of Appeal reversed that decision.

The Court of Appeals noted that the UCCJEA is designed to avoid jurisdictional competition between states or countries in child custody disputes and to enforce all custody orders.  The “home state” definition must be read in conjunction with Family Code 3421(a)(1) and the entire scheme of the statute.  The end result for this case is that although the child wasn’t actually in California for 4 months, the court still retained authority to enter orders regarding child custody.  Mother should have initiated a case in Florida immediately, which is an important note for this case.

Attached here is the written opinion: Schneer v. Llaurado 12-9-15.

For more information about child custody orders, the UCCJEA and “move away” cases, contact our office today.