Jurisdiction in Maryland Child Custody Cases

Who decides custody if two parents or two other people with an interest in custody of a child live in two different states? Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a court in a child’s home state has exclusive jurisdiction to initially determine child custody. What is a home state? A home state for children over the age of six months is a state where the child lived with a parent or person in the role of a parent for six consecutive months or more immediately before the child custody proceeding.

In a recent case, an appellate court considered whether a seven-year-old boy’s visit to Maryland was a temporary absence after the visit interrupted his 17-month residence in Indiana. The court looked at the mother’s intent to change homes from Indiana to Maryland.

The case arose when the boy’s maternal grandparents, who were Maryland residents, sued for custody of the boy. The parents were Indiana residents, and they were named as defendants. The boy was born in Indiana to Jennifer Bornman and Edward Wright. He lived in Indiana until he was about 18 months old. In 2006, he and his parents moved to Maryland. They lived with Bornman’s parents. In a few weeks, his father moved back to Indiana.

Three years and five months after coming to Maryland, the boy and his mother moved back to Indiana. In under a month, the boy’s mother sent the boy back to stay with the grandparents while she continued to live in Indiana. Her arrangement ended when, a little over a year later, the boy came back to Indiana to live with his mother.

The boy’s mother texted her sister to tell her that she would come back to Maryland to stay. She wanted to come back because her relationship with her girlfriend had deteriorated. A month later, the boy and his mother came back to Maryland with the intent to stay. They left certain belongings in storage.

A week after arriving in Maryland, the mother decided to reconcile with her girlfriend and go back to Indiana. When she got back to Indiana, he first lived with his father and then his mother.

Shortly after that, the grandparents sued for custody. The mother asked the court to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction because Indiana was the home state. As a secondary matter, she argued that Indiana was also a more convenient forum. The court granted her motion and dismissed the case. It found Indiana was the boy’s “home state.” The grandparents appealed.

The grandparents argued on appeal that the mother had brought her son to Maryland with the intent of living there permanently. His one-week stay in Maryland interrupted his return to Indiana for six consecutive months before they filed their complaint.

The boy’s mother explained that the week in Maryland was a temporary absence and that the boy had lived in Indiana from 2011 until the grandparents filed their custody complaint.

The appellate court explained that there are two exceptions to the idea that a child’s home state has jurisdiction. The first is when a home state declines to exercise jurisdiction, while the second is when a child is present in a particular state and has been abandoned because he or a sibling or a parent was threatened with abuse.

Any temporary absence of a child over the age of six months counts as part of the six-month period that establishes a child’s home state. The issue was whether the boy’s week in Maryland was temporary or if it terminated his residence.

The court concluded that it was appropriate to examine the totality of the circumstances. This would give courts necessary flexibility. The court concluded that the stay in Maryland was a temporary absence from Indiana. It noted that the mother’s decision to move was seemingly impulsive and contingent on her relationship with the former girlfriend. During her stay in Maryland, the mother did not take any steps to formalize her intent to stay in Maryland.

Child support and paternity present sensitive issues that require special care. Contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation and legal guidance.

More Blogs:

Corporal Punishment in Maryland Family Law, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2013

Untimely Objections in Maryland Family Law, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 10, 2013

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