Mother and Children’s Exit from the State Leads Maryland Courts to Decline Jurisdiction in Child Custody Case

Child custody cases’ resolutions are often the result of the specific facts unique to each case. In addition to being fact-intensive, these cases may also become very legally complicated when the residences of the family members involved span state lines. In one such case recently decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals, a Maryland father was unable to pursue a modification to his custody and visitation arrangement because the specific facts in his case indicated that the mother and children no longer had sufficient minimum contacts with Maryland, meaning that Maryland courts no longer had “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over the case.

The parents, Christopher Childers and Jennifer Childers, married in 2008 and relocated from Savannah, Georgia to Gaithersburg. They had twin boys in 2012 and a third child in 2014. Six months before the third child’s birth, the pregnant wife and the twins relocated back to Georgia. Two months after the wife left, the husband filed for divorce in Maryland. The couple eventually worked out all of the custody issues, and a consent order was entered by the trial court.

About a year later, after allegedly having problems receiving his appropriate visitation time in Georgia, the father filed a new complaint in Maryland, arguing for a modification in custody and visitation. The mother asked the trial court to throw out the father’s action, making the argument that Maryland wasn’t the proper place to litigate the dispute. The trial court agreed and entered the dismissal.

The father appealed but was again unsuccessful. The decision in favor of the mother came down to the law of jurisdiction in this state. Maryland’s version of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act says that, once a Maryland court enters an original custody determination in a case, that court holds onto “exclusive, continuing jurisdiction” until one or more specific things happen. One of these triggering events is when a Maryland court concludes “that neither the child, the child and one parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent have a significant connection with” Maryland.

That’s exactly what the trial court decided in this case. The mother and all three children lived in Georgia and had done so since June 2013. The mere “fact that the kids come up here for a week or two during the summer” was not enough to convince the trial judge that the children had the required minimum contacts with the State of Maryland to allow the Maryland courts to continue to exercise jurisdiction over issues related to the custody of and visitation with those children.

Even though the father remained a Maryland resident, this was not, by itself, enough to allow Maryland courts to continue to exercise jurisdiction over the case. In a 1989 case the father cited in his appellate argument, Maryland courts did retain jurisdiction, even though the mother and children had moved away and resided elsewhere for years. Deciding jurisdiction in child custody cases is very fact-specific. In the Childers case, the mother, the children, the mother’s family, the children’s speech therapist, the children’s doctor, and possibly even the father’s parents all lived in Georgia. In the other case from 1989, the children had family members still living in Maryland (beyond just the father), and their visits to Maryland were more extensive than just one or two weeks in the summer. These differences were enough to dictate the differing results in whether or not Maryland held onto jurisdiction.

There are many things that you have to consider as you approach your family law issues, including which state’s courts are permitted to hear your case. As you decide on the appropriate approach to your legal issues, it is vital to have knowledgeable legal counsel advising and representing you. Your Maryland attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case and provide you with all the options available to you, along with the merits or drawbacks of each one. Anthony A. Fatemi is a skilled and experienced Maryland child custody attorney who has represented many parents in dealing with their custody and visitation issues. For reliable advice and diligent advocacy, 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

Maryland Court Applies Principles of “Res Judicata” to Family Law Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 11, 2015

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