Child Custody Jurisdiction in California Family Court, Part IV
Interstate child custody jurisdiction is one of the most complicated matters to resolve in family court. It’s not just difficult for the parties. Lawyers and even the judges struggle with the issue on an almost weekly basis. That is the legacy of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which is observed by almost every state in the country.
Hopefully, the information contained in Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series has been helpful to understanding just where to litigate your family law case. Part II covered so-called “Home State” jurisdiction. Part III addressed what we’re calling “New State” jurisdiction.
Here, in Part IV, we’ll cover what I call “Not My State” jurisdiction. I call it that because, under “Not My State” Jurisdiction, the other state or states that have jurisdiction have declined to hear the case in favor of another state.
Not My State Jurisdiction: The Third Kind of Child Custody Jurisdiction
Not My State Jurisdiction is embodied in Family Code section 3421(a)(3). Under this law, California has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if:
“All courts having jurisdiction under [Home State jurisdiction] or [New State jurisdiction] have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that [California] is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child….”
In other words, another state or states qualify as either a home state or another state where jurisdiction is legally effective. However, for one reason or another, the courts in those states have determined that California is the more appropriate place to hear the matter.
Why Would a Judge Decide Not to Exercise Child Custody Jurisdiction?
Well, here’s a scenario: John Doe is a 5-year-old special needs child. Mom and Dad have lived in Texas for a year. Mom moves with the child to California and lives there for three months, while Dad remains in Texas. Mom and Dad both file for custody in their respective states. Under Home State jurisdiction, or Family Code section 3421(a)(1), Texas is the child’s home state. Thus, jurisdiction is in Texas.
However, while in California, Mom has found a doctor and therapist that are effectively addressing John’s special needs. Based on these facts, the court in Texas may determine that it would be too difficult to litigate the matter there when the child, and the two specialists reside in California. These are people the court might need to interview at some point. Therefore, the judge in Texas could exercise his court’s power to decline jurisdiction under Texas’ version of the UCCJEA.
Here’s another scenario: Mom has lived with John Doe, a 13-year-old child, in Georgia for the last two years. Dad lives in California. John comes to visit his father for a week in California. While there, father learns that John has been abused by Mom’s boyfriend and refuses to return John to Georgia. Instead, he files an emergency request for custody orders in California under Family Code section 3424.
The court in California grants temporary emergency jurisdiction and, over the course of the next six months, the court finds that the allegations of abuse are substantiated and orders child to live with Father in California. Typically, after the emergency has subsided, jurisdiction is supposed to be released back to the state where jurisdiction was proper. However, in this case, because of the passage of time, and the fact that the child now lives in California, Georgia may decide to decline jurisdiction on the grounds that California is a more appropriate forum.
Cases Involving Child Custody Jurisdiction Vary Based Upon the Facts
These are but a couple examples of how Not My State jurisdiction might come up. Family Code section 3421(a)(3) is a rarely used subsection of that law, however. So it is difficult to conceive of every possible way it could be used.
That is why every case is different. It is important to consult with an attorney regarding child custody jurisdiction if you have doubts about whether or not your state could hear your case.
Call Pakpour Family Law today at to discuss child custody and other family law issues: