Child-Custody Determination and Inconvenient Forum – Let’s say a court has the jurisdiction to preside over and rule on a child-custody case, but due to the circumstances of that case, the judge or party in the case feels a court in another state would be more appropriate. Is this possible?
The short answer is absolutely. Courts in all states have just as much power to make final legal decisions and judgments that directly impact cases inside their jurisdiction as they do “saying no to ruling on something” if they believe another court hearing the case will be in the best interest of the child.
This is what’s called Inconvenient Forum. The decision to use – or not use – a particular court can be raised by:
- The court’s motion to step aside
- The motion of a party in the case (parent, legal guardian, etc.)
- Another court’s request
If a court is, in fact, an inconvenient forum for a child-custody suit, that judge can formally halt any further action (known legally as a ‘stay’) until a new child-custody proceeding can begin under the jurisdiction of a more acceptable court. Per the Texas Family Code, a court could conceivably maintain its jurisdiction over a divorce or other case even if the judge declines its right to rule on child custody.
Below are a few of the more common factors a court will consider when determining if it is the appropriate forum:
- The length of time the child has lived out of state
- Any agreement parties in the case have over which state assumes jurisdiction
- How familiar the existing court and new court are with the facts of the case
- Whether or not the case involves domestic violence of any kind
- Pertinent testimony of the child
A refresher on Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is defined as a court’s official power to make legal decisions and judgments, but an important thing to remember is that a court’s jurisdiction typically does not transcend beyond the boundaries of its state or county. For example, a family court in Texas cannot involve itself in a case – divorce, marital property disputes, child-custody determinations, etc. – that originated and was ruled on in Florida.
That is, of course, if there are no extenuating circumstances that could allow a court to step in. Last year, we wrote a blog on child-custody determination and the occasional need for significant-connection jurisdiction if the child does not have a home state. There is also what is known as temporary emergency jurisdiction, which can come into play if the child involved in the case is present in the same state the court is in and either of the following factors are also true:
- The child has been abandoned
- The child, a sibling, or parent of the child is threatened with mistreatment or abuse
If this is the case, and there isn’t an existing and enforceable child-custody determination in place, the new court’s temporary decision will remain in effect until a court that has full jurisdiction obtains a new order. If no resolution is made, the court’s interim ruling becomes final, and the state becomes the home state for the child.
There is a lot more that goes into this conversation. It’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your situation. Give our knowledgeable team here at Nelson Law Group, PC a call if you have any further questions regarding this – or any other – issue. Our team is always available.
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