Does California Have Jurisdiction Over Your Custody Matter?

Jurisdiction is generally defined as the right of a court to hear and decide the case. A court must have child custody jurisdiction before it can decide, or make orders, concerning a child custody case. In the past, years of court decisions between different States caused competing laws for States and, in some instances, Federal cases. Therefore, child custody jurisdiction became challenging to establish and was a cause for increased litigation and swift removal of children from one state to another.

Today, all states have adapted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA. The UCCJEA was written to resolve child custody issues in the correct state. It gives child custody jurisdiction to the home state of the child. Generally speaking, the custody case must be decided in the home state.

In California, the party initiating the proceeding bears the burden of establishing this state’s UCCJEA jurisdiction. There are four jurisdictional tests for an initial custody adjudication. These are outlined in Family Code Section 3421(a). The four tests summarized are:

  1. Childs “home state”: California may exercise custody jurisdiction if it either (a) is the child’s “home state” when the case is commenced or (b) was the child’s “home state” within six months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from California but a parent or “person acting as a parent” continues to live in California. The definition of “Home state” is the state where the child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before commencement of the custody proceeding. If the child is younger than six months, it is the state where the child lived from birth.
  2. Significant connection and substantial evidence: California can exercise custody jurisdiction if (a) no other state has home state jurisdiction or a court of the home state has declined to exercise its jurisdiction on the ground that California is the more appropriate forum and (b) the child and the child’s parents have a significant connection with California other than mere physical presence and substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.
  3. Declined Jurisdiction: A third UCCJEA way to exercise custody jurisdiction in California is when all other courts with “home state” or “significant connection” jurisdiction have declined to exercise their jurisdiction on the ground that a California court is the more appropriate forum to determine custody of the child.
  4. Default Jurisdiction: The final UCCJEA jurisdictional test in effect authorized the exercise of custody jurisdiction by “default”. This means, a California court has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination if no court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the first three tests outlined above.

However, there are factors that may change the four approaches such as, if there is competing UCCJEA jurisdiction over the custody matter, the factor tests that need to be applied to the facts of your case, and possible due process violations. Jurisdictional questions are confusing and sometimes hard to navigate, that is why the attorneys at Mello & Pickering, LLP are here to help you. Call now for a free consultation to see if California has child custody jurisdiction over your matter.

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