Child Custody Jurisdiction in Arizona
Sometimes an Arizona court is asked to make changes in a child custody order that was issued in another state. In order to be sure that custody laws are applied consistently, most states – including Arizona — have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act that provides rules for interstate child custody cases. In the case of Melgar v. Campo, 161 P.3d 1269 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2007), the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed the procedure an Arizona divorce court must follow when it is asked to change a North Carolina child custody order. Lilliana Campo and Rafael Melgar, an unmarried couple, had a child together in North Carolina. The relationship fell apart and Lilliana left the state with the child. Rafael went to family court in North Carolina to seek custody of the child. Lilliana did not appear but sent a letter to the court alleging domestic abuse. The court awarded Rafael custody.
Rafael located Lilliana and their child in Arizona and filed suit there, asking the court to enforce the order giving him custody. Because Lilliana made allegations of child abuse, the Arizona court determined that it had authority to act on an emergency basis. It held a hearing and changed the custody order to give the mother sole custody. Rafael appealed. One important aim of the Uniform Custody Act is to prevent states from issuing competing custody orders. To achieve this end, the Uniform Act says that the court making the initial custody ruling has sole authority to change its order in the future unless it gives up that authority, or both parents move out of that state. This is called continuing and exclusive child custody jurisdiction.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in Arizona
Jurisdiction means that the court has the right to rule on a particular action between parties. In the Melgar/Campo case, the North Carolina court made the initial custody ruling. No evidence suggested that the North Carolina court gave up jurisdiction, and – although Lilliana moved to Arizona – Rafael still lived in North Carolina. That meant that the North Carolina court had continuing jurisdiction. Arizona Could Only Issue an Emergency Order If one state court has jurisdiction of a custody case, under the terms of the Uniform Custody Act, another state can only exercise emergency jurisdiction.
That means that the courts of another state can only step in and modify the custody ruling if a child or a parent is in danger, and then only on a temporary basis. “If a case involves emergency situations, courts are authorized to enter temporary custody orders to protect children when the child, his or her parent, or a sibling is at risk. Emergency jurisdiction and the accompanying orders, however, are a temporary exception to the exclusive, continuing jurisdiction of the issuing court.”
In the Meglar/Campo case, the Arizona court determined that Lilliana or the child was at risk and entered an emergency order giving the mother sole custody. To that extent, it acted within its proper emergency powers. However, the court did not intend this as a temporary measure allowing Lilliana to return back to North Carolina and ask that court for a modification of the custody order. Rather, the Arizona court went on to “modify” the original custody order to give permanent custody to Lilliana. This was contrary to the terms of the Uniform Custody Act, and, in fact, set up the “dueling” custody orders the Act was intended to prevent. The Court of Appeals reversed, and sent the matter back to the lower court for further proceedings.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.