There are some important exceptions built into the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in emergency situations.
If a custody case involves an emergency situation that places a child in imminent danger of harm, such a child being abandoned or abused, a court in Arizona that otherwise lacks jurisdiction to enter a child custody order may still enter an emergency temporary child custody order to protect a child.
However, in order to protect against more than one state court exercising child custody jurisdiction, the emergency orders are always temporary.
The UCCJEA makes it clear that emergency temporary orders are only allowed to be issued by a state court judge who otherwise lacks jurisdiction over the child custody issues on a temporary basis until such time the parents can address those issues in the state that actually has jurisdiction over the child custody issues.
For example, if the parents and child live in California but are on vacation in Arizona and an emergency arises, the Arizona court may issue an emergency temporary child custody order for only as much time as it would reasonably take for the parents to return to California to address the child custody issues since California is the only court that would have jurisdiction over child custody issues.
When a parent returns to their home state, either parent may then file a child custody action to modify the child custody order issued in the state that lacked jurisdiction over the child custody issues but issued the emergency child custody order.
Also, the court that issued the emergency child custody order must notify the court that has jurisdiction over the child custody issues of the issuance of the emergency temporary child custody order.
Arizona Court of Appeals Decision on Emergency 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 the 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.
If you have questions about emergency child custody when Arizona lacks jurisdiction, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona child custody and family law attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in child custody and family law cases.
Our family law firm has earned numerous awards such as US News and World Reports Best Arizona Family Law Firm, US News and World Report Best Divorce Attorneys, “Best of the Valley” by Arizona Foothills readers, and “Best Arizona Divorce Law Firms” by North Scottsdale Magazine.
Call us today at (480)305-8300 or reach out to us through our appointment scheduling form to schedule your personalized consultation and turn your Arizona child custody or family law case around today.
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