State Court Declined to Adjudicate Child Custody Matter Until It Consulted With Massachusetts Court That Claimed Jurisdiction

What happens in the event where one parent files a child custody motion in one state, and the other parent files in another state? Which state should have jurisdiction to hear and decide upon the matter? In the past, such a scenario proved problematic, as frequently the two states would each adjudicate the matter and yield conflicting results. Therefore, in 1981, the U.S. Congress passed the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which required that each state apply full faith and credit to interstate custody decisions, and where more than one state vied for jurisdiction, priority would be with the home state.

According to PKPA, the “home state” of a child is “the State in which, immediately preceding the time involved, the child lived with his parents, a parent, or a person acting as parent, for at least six consecutive months.” Temporary absences from a jurisdiction did not negate the requisite finding. States have adopted their own versions of PKPA, including the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) in Connecticut and the Massachusetts Child Custody Jurisdictional Act (MCCJA). Under these acts, priority is given to the “home state” of the child, defined in the same way as under PKPA.

A recent case heard in Connecticut serves as a useful example showing the process by which a court will consider a petition to modify child custody when another State already claimed jurisdiction. The parents of a minor child were unmarried and resided in Massachusetts for at least fourteen (14) months. The mother took the child with her to Connecticut, without the father’s consent, and immediately filed a custody application with the Connecticut courts. Meanwhile, the father submitted a motion for order of temporary custody with the Probate and Family Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which was granted on December 18, 2009 – before Connecticut court ruled on the mother’s petition.

The father argued that the mother’s custody application had to be dismissed because Connecticut did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate it. He argued that Massachusetts was the home state of the child, and the mother failed to establish a sufficient nexus to Connecticut that would allow its court to make a ruling. The mother conceded that while Massachusetts was “technically” the child’s home state, she referenced the numerous connections the child and mother both had with Connecticut, which the court stated may be compelling.

The court discussed, in detail, the child custody statutes for both Connecticut and Massachusetts (as mentioned above), and even noted that while the Massachusetts court determined it had jurisdiction, this “does not necessarily mean that all future proceedings in this matter must take place in Massachusetts.” Rather, both the MCCJA and UCCJEA specifically grant state courts the power to communicate and cooperate with the courts of other states in matters involving interstate custody. Therefore, in this case, the Connecticut court declined to rule one way or the other, since Massachusetts already claimed jurisdiction. It would need to confer with the Massachusetts court to establish which forum was more appropriate to hear the matter.

Whether advancing or defending a motion to modify custody or visitation, a parent is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
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