Home State Custody Jurisdiction When Child Relocated to Arizona

Home State Custody Jurisdiction When Child Relocated to Arizona

Modification of other state court’s child custody order for parenting time and legal decision-making was proper where Arizona court first asserted temporary emergency jurisdiction under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). After New York and Florida declined jurisdiction, Arizona asserted home state jurisdiction over a child who resided in Arizona with the father for over six months following the mother’s involuntary hospitalization in Florida.

photo of father and son reaching for basketball

When does an Arizona court have home state jurisdiction under the UCCJEA?

Ashley Atkinson v. Nadine McIndoo

Arizona Home State Jurisdiction to Modify NY Child Custody Order

The child in this case was born in 1998. In 1999, the New York court awarded physical and legal custody to the mother with unsupervised parenting time for the biological father. The mother relocated with the child to Florida in 2003. There, in 2012, the mother “suffered a mental health crisis” so serious she was involuntarily hospitalized. The father, a resident of Arizona, took the child into his care and returned to Arizona.

Shortly after picking up his child from Florida protective services in December 2012, he petitioned for modified custody orders in January 2013, requesting temporary custody in the interim. The child’s mother responded to his petition and “admitted proper venue in Arizona.” She then petitioned to enforce the NY order. The petitions were consolidated into one action.

Arizona Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction Over Child Custody

Having determined it had 60-day emergency authority, the Superior Court in Arizona granted father temporary emergency sole legal decision-making custody of the child. That allowed time for him to seek modified orders in either New York or Florida. Temporary custody was extended for another 90 days for cause.

Ultimately, both states declined jurisdiction. First New York and then Florida. By the time the father’s petition for modified custody was heard, the child had lived in Arizona for eight months. The Superior Court determined that Arizona was now the child’s home state and exercised child custody jurisdiction.

The Superior Court modified the New York child custody order, awarding father “sole legal decision-making and primary physical custody.” The mother was granted supervised parenting time. That is, until certain conditions were met for unsupervised parenting time in the future.

After filing a timely appeal, the mother made two arguments. Both involved application of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to the facts involving this child’s circumstances. The mother argued:

  • Temporary Emergency Custody Jurisdiction: That the trial court lacked temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA; and
  • Home State Jurisdiction: That the trial court did not have jurisdiction to modify the child custody order because Arizona was not the child’s home state under the UCCJEA.

Arizona’s UCCJEA is codified in ARS § 25-1001, et seq.

What Is Home State Jurisdiction?

For purposes of the UCCJEA, the child’s home state is that “state in which a child lived with a parent … for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding, including any period during which that person is temporarily absent from the state.” ARS § 25-1002(7).

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, emphasizing the purpose of the UCCJEA to “resolve conflicts regarding jurisdiction in interstate custody disputes” such as this. The appeals court analyzed, first, the New York court’s retention of continuing jurisdiction over its original custody order unless and until it determined “the child’s connection with [NY] is too attenuated or that the child and parents no longer reside in the state.”

Jurisdiction Exception to Protect the Child from Mistreatment

Applying an exception to the continuing jurisdiction rule over original custody orders, the Arizona court complied with the UCCJEA in asserting temporary emergency jurisdiction to protect the child. ARS § 25-1034(A). Because it had emergency jurisdiction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion to continue temporary custody another 90 days following father’s request for more time.

What evidence supported the need for Arizona to protect the child? The record showed the child was at risk of harm or mistreatment from the mother. The report provided several instances of mother’s mental health concerns and her having exhibited “bizarre behavior,” including:

“Here, the December 20, 2012 Florida incident report and testimony of the court employee who interviewed Child establish that Mother experienced a mental breakdown causing her to hold Child on the ground and pour a bottle of ammonia on him ‘to keep the demons out of him.’ Mother did not dispute the incident occurred …”

The mother also filed a false police report against the child’s father and “screamed at the officers for not substantiating her report, and relayed messages to Father from her dead husband.”

While the father had temporary custody under the 90-day extension, he petitioned the New York court for modified custody orders. New York declined jurisdiction; neither child nor parent had lived in NY since 2003.

That left Florida where the mother still lived and which, she argued, was properly the child’s home state. By the time the Florida court was considering its jurisdiction to modify custody orders, it was August 2013. The child had resided in Arizona for eight months, sufficient time for Arizona to be the child’s home state and reason for Florida to decline jurisdiction, which it did.

In determining Arizona was indeed the child’s home state, the Florida court made two key findings: 1) The child was not located in the State of Florida; and 2) Arizona properly assumed emergency temporary jurisdiction in “substantial conformity” with the UCCJEA.

Atkinson v. McIndoo, 1 CA-CV 14-0124 (Ariz. Ct. App. Jan. 8, 2015)

For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.

Any concern about custody jurisdiction should be discussed with a family law attorney. For some helpful reading on the topic, take a look at Child Custody and the UCCJEA in Arizona law.