Father Loses in Custody Dispute Due to Maryland Not Being the Child’s ‘Home State’ Under UCCJEA

In many child custody disputes, the facts related to a parent’s behavior can be complicated. Each parents has his or her reasons for acting in a manner that the parent thinks is best for the child. As you go to court in your home state seeking assistance, it is important to keep in mind that, just because one parent may have failed to follow a court order in the past does not necessarily mean that the law will not favor that parent. This was the result in one recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals case, which ruled in favor of a mother who had unilaterally taken the couple’s child and relocated out of the country. The mother won because Maryland was not the child’s “home state,” and Maryland courts lacked jurisdiction over the dispute.

The husband, Roman Pilkington II, was a member of the U.S. Army stationed in Germany when he met the woman who would become his wife. Nicole Pilkington was a citizen of Germany, but she and her husband eventually moved from Germany to Colorado. Two years later, the marriage ended. The Colorado court gave the mother primary physical custody of the couple’s child.

In 2014, the mother took the child and his half-sibling on what was supposed to be a one-month vacation to Germany. The vacation was actually more of a relocation, with the mother enrolling the children in school in Germany, despite this being in violation of the Colorado court’s order. A year and a half later, the mother allowed the child to visit the father in Maryland (where the father was living by that time). With the child in his physical custody, the father asked the Maryland courts to intervene in the case. The mother, through her lawyer, argued that the Maryland courts did not have the authority to rule in the dispute. The trial judge concluded otherwise but ordered the child sent back to Germany until a full hearing was held.

Not surprisingly, the mother, once she had the child back, cut off all communication and ceased participating in the Maryland case. This led the Maryland trial court to award sole custody to the father. At this point, the mother once again decided to participate in the case, this time to appeal the recent custody ruling. Despite the mother’s apparent failure to follow the directions of both the Colorado court and the Maryland court, she won her appeal. Why? The answer lies in the rules contained within Maryland’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. Even while noting that the intent of the UCCJEA was to disincentivize parents from unilaterally taking their children in violation of court orders (which the mother did in this case), the appeals court explained that it was bound by the letter of the law, which backed up the mother’s argument.

Maryland’s UCCJEA says that the proper court to litigate a custody dispute is the child’s “home state.” In order to qualify as a home state, the child must have resided in that location for at least six months. In this case, the child had lived in Germany for roughly a year and a half when he came to visit the father in Maryland. The child had been in Maryland for three months when the father sought custody. The trial court looked at this timeline and concluded that the child had no home state under the UCCJEA. This was incorrect because Maryland’s UCCJEA says that foreign countries can qualify as home states, just like states in the U.S. In this case, the trial court should have declared Germany to be the child’s home state and declined to issue a ruling in the case, based upon a lack of jurisdiction.

If you are involved in a custody dispute that crosses state or even national boundaries, it is important to work with counsel familiar with all aspects of family law, including the UCCJEA. Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has helped many families in dealing with custody issues, even when those cases cross borders. To put this office’s skills and knowledge to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Maryland Court Determines “Home State” In International Child Custody Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 14, 2016

Jurisdiction in Maryland Child Custody Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2014

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