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Which State Has Jurisdiction Over the Child?


Often receive calls where one parent has moved to Alabama from another state. Sometimes the parties were divorced in another state. The question becomes in which state do I file divorce or which state has jurisdiction over the child?

The easiest answer is that it always depends on the facts and every case is unique. Contact a family lawyer before deciding which state to file your case. There is nothing worse than paying a court filing fee and then the court dismissing your case for lack of jurisdiction over the parties.

The parties in this case were never married. They originally lived in Florida and had a child together. The state of Florida enacted a child support order on behalf of the mother. The Florida court determined through DNA that the father was the biological parent of the child.

In the spring of 2011, the mother relocated to Alabama. In 2014, the parties agreed that the father would still exercise visitation with the minor child in Florida during the summer. In the summer of 2011, the father did not return the child to the mother in Alabama.

The father filed a petition with the Florida court. At the same time, the mother filed an emergency petition in Alabama in Lee County. The father filed a motion to dismiss the Alabama case. The father maintained that the Florida court had jurisdiction over the parties.

The father relied on the “UCCJEA”, which is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The Alabama court denied the father’s motion to dismiss, but later determined that the Florida had sufficient ties to retain jurisdiction over the parties. Mother appealed and the court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court decision, Dunaway v. Vasta.

The appellate court determined that “UCCJEA” Act controlled in this matter. More specifically, an Alabama court has jurisdiction to make a child custody determination only of a court of another state does not or if it declines jurisdiction. In this case, Florida had jurisdiction from the child support order of 2009 and it was a child enforcement proceeding.

Further the court held, once a court has made a child custody determination, it retains jurisdiction over any modification action unless the child, the child’s parents, or any person acting as a parent do not reside in that state or if neither the child, nor the child and one parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent have a significant connection with the state.

The trial court was correct to determine that Florida had jurisdiction over the parties. It appears that since the father filed a case first in Florida, the Florida court retained jurisdiction. If the mother, had sought relief in Alabama first, the Alabama court would likely have had jurisdiction over the parties.

Often, I have seen, when a parent moves to Alabama and has lived here with the child for more than 6 months, the Alabama court will take jurisdiction over the parties. These cases are always fact specific. If you need help with a child custody matter, contact us at Ingram Law LLC.


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