Legal Memorandum: Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Child Custody

Issue: Whether the courts in the Marshall Islands have subject matter jurisdiction to determine custody of a child conceived in The Marshall Islands but now living in Hawaii with the child’s mother.

Area of Law: Family Law
Keywords: Subject matter jurisdiction; Child custody
Jurisdiction: Federal, Marshall Islands, North Carolina, Washington
Cited Cases: 888 N.E.2d 761; 113 N.C. App. 247; 33 So. 3d 782; 52 Va. App. 523; 798 So. 2d 24; 648 N.W.2d 664; 98 N.C. App. 493; 271 N.W.2d 546; 391 S.E.2d 201; 861 N.E.2d 788; 505 S.E.2d 147
Cited Statutes: 28 U.S.C. § 1738A (1980); UCCJEA § 105; UCCJEA § 206, part a; UCCJEA § 206, part b; UCCJEA § 208; UUCCJA § 8 cmt., 9 U.L.A. 526-27 (1999); sections 61.1302- 61.1348, Fla. Stat.; Title 19, Chapter 9, Article 3, Ga. Stat.; Section 61.1308, Fla. Stat.; Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.27.201(1) (2006)
Date: 03/01/2012

In most United States jurisdictions subject matter jurisdiction over child custody matters is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), which replaced the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act ("UCCJA"). See Hindle v. Fuith, 33 So. 3d 782 n.2 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010).

The UCCJEA was developed to prevent “custody contestants” from “exploiting jurisdictional ambiguities to draw out litigation.” and specifies the procedures for determining the appropriate forum for child custody proceedings as between two potentially competing states/jurisdictions.  U.S. Dep’t. of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, p.3 (Dec. 2001).  The UCCJEA also conforms to the U.S. Federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (“PKPA”).  28 U.S.C. § 1738A (1980).

The UCCJEA requires state courts to recognize and enforce custody determinations made by foreign courts under factual circumstances that substantially conform to the UCCJEA’s jurisdictional standards and to defer to foreign courts as if they were state courts.  UCCJEA § 105.  The UCCJEA establishes four bases for initial jurisdiction—home state, significant connection, more appropriate forum, and vacuum jurisdiction.  It also authorizes courts to issue temporary relief on emergency grounds.

The UCCJEA gives home state jurisdiction priority in initial child-custody proceedings.  In doing so, the Act conforms to the PKPA and rejects the UCCJA’s coequal treatment of home state and significant-connection jurisdiction.  Only in cases in which a child has no home state or the home state declines jurisdiction may another court exercise significant-connection jurisdiction.

Under […]

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