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In re Marriage of Kent Summary


In re Marriage of Kent published Mary 17, 2019


Legal Background


The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a law that governs jurisdictional issues in interstate custody cases and has been adopted by nearly all US states. In an important decision regarding the UCCJEA, a recent California appellate court case found that a court must first determine whether it has jurisdiction to modify an order of another state — even when the parties had stipulated to the jurisdiction of that court.

Factual Background and Trial's Court's Order

In Kent v. Kent, the Fourth Appellate District of California heard the appeal of Molly Kent, who wanted to modify custody order provisions regarding a specific potential visitor of her children. The original order was issued by a North Carolina court. The California family court granted in part and denied in part Molly’s request to delete the provisions; she appealed the part of the findings and order after hearing (FOAH) that denied her request.


Decision on Appeal

The appellate court never reached the merits of Molly’s claim, however, because it ruled that the California family court lacked jurisdiction to modify the North Carolina order under the UCCJEA.


As it began its analysis, the court noted that “[t]he UCCJEA ensures that only one state has jurisdiction to make ‘child custody determinations’ at any one time.” While an out-of-state custody order can be registered in another state for enforcement, for a court to modify that order, two conditions must be met:


1. California has jurisdiction to make an initial determination under section 3421, subdivision (a)(1) or (2) [of the UCCJEA]; and


2. Either—


a. The out-of-state court has determined either that it no longer has exclusive continuing jurisdiction under section 3422 or that California would be a more convenient forum under section 3427, or


b. The out-of-state court or a California court determines that the      child and the child’s parents do not presently reside in the out-of-state forum.


The appellate court found that the California court didn’t communicate with the North Carolina court at all regarding the order, and, moreover, the father still lived in North Carolina. Even though both mother and father stipulated that California had jurisdiction, the court explicitly noted that “[t]here is no provision in the UCCJEA for jurisdiction . . . by stipulation.”


Accordingly, the appellate court ruled that the family court erred when it considered the mother’s request and, in the process, made clear of the importance of an out-of-state court’s determination of jurisdiction under the UCCJEA before proceeding to the merits of a custody order case.


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