Applying UCCJEA To Let a Case Go

When parents (or those who want to be parents) are in different states, which state has jurisdiction to decide custody? In J.B. v. F.B. and A.B., Case No. 2040448 (Ala. Civ. App. November 18, 2005), the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has reminded us that the rules are actually pretty simple.

According to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (adopted in 36 states, including Alabama), except in the rare case of an emergency declaration, Alabama has jurisdiction to decide custody only if:

(1) This state is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state;

(2) A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under subdivision (1), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum under [Ala. Code] Section 30-3B-207 or 30-3B-208, and:

a. The child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and

b. Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships;

(3) All courts having jurisdiction under subdivision (1) or (2) have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under Section 30-3B-207 or 30-3B-208; or

(4) No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in subdivision (1), (2), or (3).

This case had already been before the Appeals Court (J.B. v. A.B., 888 So. 2d 528 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004), and the Appeals Court had already determined that the child’s home state was Missouri. After the first trip to the Appeals Court, however, the Etowah County Probate Court heard testimony and granted adoption of the child to the mother’s husband’s sister and her husband, even though proceedings were already underway in Missouri concerning the child.

The Appeals Court in this case found that no facts had intervened to change the child’s home state from Missouri to Alabama and that, consequently, the Alabama court still lacked jurisdiction. Because it attempted to act without jurisdiction, its order granting the adoption was void. The Appeals Court ordered the Etowah County Probate Court to set aside its “void judgment.”