Herald v. Herald, UCCJEA (Child Custody Jurisdiction)

DATE RENDERED: 2/13/2009

Dad appealed KY TC’s ruling awarding custody of 3 children to Mom, contending that KY TC lacked jurisdiction to make such an order under UCCJEA.

Family lived in NC for several years before parties separated and Wife and children moved to KY in April 2007. Dad, a marine, stayed in NC awaiting deployment. In June 2007, parties entered into a separation agreement giving Dad custody of kids, and kids returned to NC where they stayed until Mom removed them again in October. Mom then filed Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in KY in January 2008. A few weeks later, Dad then removed the kids back to NC, refusing to tell Mom of kids’ location or to allow her to speak with him and informing her that he was soon to be deployed to Iraq.

Mom subsequently filed Motion for custody in KY. TC issued order scheduling status hearing for February 19th. On February 15th, Mom filed and was granted an ex parte motion for emergency custody. Dad’s NC counsel corresponded with KY court on February 18, advising that Dad was deployed, kids had lived in KY only 2 ½ months, and providing copy of his motion for custody filed in NC court on February 15. KY TC nonetheless conducted hearing on February 19. Mom testified, but Dad did not appear. KY TC indicated at end of hearing that it would communicate with NC court re proper jurisdiction under UCCJEA, but this never occurred. KY TC gave Mom custody a week later. Dad entered special appearance a month later to move to dismiss case due to KY TC’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction and in personam jurisdiction over him. KY TC declined to dismiss Mom’s custody petition but did stay action under Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act.

Parties conceded that KY was not home state of children for six months, nor that NC had declined to exercise jurisdiction; therefore, KRS 403.822 did not apply. Mom alleged that KY had jurisdiction under KRS 403.828, the temporary emergency jurisdiction provision of the UCCJEA. This statute allows KY jurisdiction where a child in KY has been abandoned or needs emergency protection to prevent or escape from mistreatment or abuse. CA found no allegations of mistreatment or abuse by Mom in refusal to inform her of location of children. Although Dad was due to be deployed to Iraq, TC cannot use this fact against Dad because those serving in military should not be automatically deprived custody of their kids. Furthermore, to allow such justification for exercise of “emergency” jurisdiction would allow a parent seeking custody to file such a petition in any state moment before deployment.
KY TC’s order vacated and remanded for order dismissing petition for custody.

Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates