Most states have enacted uniform laws that govern child custody and support issues. Such uniform provisions serve to provide “systematic and harmonized approaches” to family issues that require immediate attention when the parents live in different states or countries. Since such parents live in different states or nations, the first issue that must be resolved is whether the court has proper jurisdiction over the person to handle the child custody or support dispute.
The governing statutory frameworks are: 1) the Maryland Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or the UCCJEA, and 2) the Maryland Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or the UIFSA. These statutes do not contain uniform provisions on jurisdiction, and in some cases courts are called upon to sort through the discrepancy. If you are facing a child custody or support matter of any kind, it is important to contact a Maryland family law attorney to find out how the law can affect your case.
In a recent Maryland custody case, Friedetzky v. Hsia, the parties, Claudia Friedetzky and Roger Hsia, were not married but had an affair while they were both living in New York in 2006. Friedetzky had a child the following year. In 2011, she relocated to Maryland for work. Hsia was never in contact with the child and never provided child support. He still lives in New York. In 2013, Friedetzky filed a petition in a Maryland court seeking custody over the child. Hsia responded by asking for a paternity test and later amended his answer to seek a great deal of discovery, including documents and interrogatories. Friedetzky later amended her petition for custody by requesting the establishment of paternity, sole legal and physical custody, and child support. Hsia moved to dismiss based on a lack of personal jurisdiction, since he was a resident of New York.
The trial court ultimately granted Hsia’s motion to dismiss the petition. Friedetzky appealed, arguing that Hsia submitted to the court’s jurisdiction for paternity, child support, and counsel fees under the UIFSA’s long-arm statute by seeking genetic testing and by substantially litigating the issue through discovery. Hsia responded by claiming that he did not submit to personal jurisdiction because the UCCJEA provides immunity from such jurisdiction. The court of special appeals addressed the “intersection” of these two provisions that govern child support and custody, respectively. While pointing out that they both “streamline and synchronize” particular family law statutes, for the benefit of families (and children) who live in different states or countries, the court identified the differences between the provisions in terms of jurisdictional reach.
The court reviewed both statutes in depth and reached a different conclusion than the trial court. Here, the court found that Hsia’s affirmative request for a paternity test, combined with his efforts to obtain assorted discovery items on matters related to child support and paternity, constituted grounds for sufficient jurisdiction under the UIFSA long-arm statute. Therefore, the court had the authority to assert jurisdiction over Hsia to determine paternity, child support, and counsel fees.
This case illustrates the potentially complex nature of child custody disputes. An experienced family law attorney would be able to guide you through the legal system with the goal of achieving the best outcome for your family. Anthony A. Fatemi is a family law attorney with a great deal of experience representing parties throughout the state of Maryland. For help with your family law needs, you are encouraged to contact us at (301) 519-2801, or to submit our online contact form.
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