Table of Contents
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
Arizona adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). This law provides rules to determine which state has jurisdiction in competing child custody actions. Jurisdiction is based on which state has “home-state” status under the law. In the case of Welch-Doden v. Roberts, 42 P.3d 1166 (2002), the Arizona Court of Appeals addressed home-state status questions.
Facts of the Case
The parents were married in Arizona on November 1996. They moved back and forth between Arizona and Oklahoma during their marriage. Their child was born in Oklahoma in 1999. Mrs. Welch-Doden returned to Arizona in September and filed for divorce and custody on January 25, 2001. At all times, the child was with her.
On February 6, 2001, the husband was served with notice of the Arizona petition. Two days later, he filed a petition for divorce and custody in Oklahoma. In the Oklahoma petition, he stated he had not been properly served with the Arizona petition.
On March 7, 2001, the husband entered a special appearance in Arizona to move to dismiss the Arizona petition. His attorney appeared by phone at a hearing on August 21, 2001. During the hearing, the trial judge spoke telephonically with the judge in the Oklahoma case.
The trial judge ruled that Oklahoma had home state jurisdiction. The court found that Oklahoma had been the child’s home state within the six months before the petition was filed. Therefore, under the law, Oklahoma was entitled to jurisdiction even though the Wife filed first.
The trial judge dismissed the Arizona action. The Oklahoma trial judge granted father’s divorce and awarded him custody. Wife, still in Arizona with the child, filed a special action and requested a stay of the Arizona order dismissing her action. The Court of Appeals granted an initial stay to review this matter. However, the court determined that the trial judge was correct in dismissing the wife’s custody petition. It dissolved the stay and indicated that an opinion would follow.
Home State Jurisdiction under the UCCJEA
The purpose of the UCCJEA is to set up a way to prevent jurisdictional child custody fights. To this end, the uniform law narrowed the focus to one issue: home state jurisdiction. The state with home state jurisdiction determines custody issues. However, Arizona statutes contain two separate and inconsistent ways of determining home state jurisdiction.
One defines the home state as the state where a child lived for six consecutive months immediately before the custody action. The other also requires that a child lives in the state for six months. However, the six months need not be immediately before the custody action. The six month period must be completed within the six months before the custody action.
Mrs. Welch-Doden argues that the former applies. The child left Oklahoma four months before she filed for custody. That means Oklahoma cannot be the home state. The husband argued for the second interpretation. The child lived in Oklahoma for a six month period. That period was completed four months before the custody action was filed.
The Court of Appeals found the husband’s position more persuasive. The primary intent of the uniform law is more certainty in resolving the jurisdictional conflict. Therefore, the conflict should be resolved to strengthen the certainty of home state jurisdiction.
The Court found it clear that Mr. Welch-Doden’s interpretation, not Mrs. Welch-Doden’s, was consistent with this purpose. The expanded definition of home state acts to enlarge the more limited definition of the home state.
The Court resolved the statutory conflict in favor of the broader definition. Home state jurisdiction does not require that the child live there six consecutive months immediately before the filing. Instead, the applicable time period to determine “home state” is “within six months before the commencement of the proceeding”.
The Court noted that the wife’s reading would result in narrowing home state jurisdiction. It would also increase the number of jurisdictional disputes in competing jurisdictions. This is contrary to the UCCJEA’s purpose.
Best Interest Analysis No Longer Applicable
Wife also argues that the trial court should have considered the child’s best interests. However, this argument is contrary to the language of the uniform statute.
The drafters of the UCCJEA found that disputes arose when “best interest” was used to determine jurisdiction. That language was intentionally omitted from the newly-drafted UCCJEA. Nor does the fact that Wife filed first to give Arizona jurisdiction.
The rule giving priority to first-in-time filing specifies that the filing must be in a state “having jurisdiction substantially in conformity with this chapter”. Because Oklahoma had home state jurisdiction, Arizona did not have jurisdiction “substantially in conformity with this chapter”.
The Court concluded that the trial court did not err in rejecting Mrs. Welch-Doden’s position. It agreed with the trial court that Oklahoma had home state jurisdiction. Judgment affirmed.
If you have questions about meaning of home state in an Arizona divorce case, 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.
More Articles About Child Custody in Arizona
- Access to a Child’s Medical Records in Arizona
- Adoption Attorneys in Arizona
- Required Affidavit in a Child Custody Case in Arizona
- Are Mothers Favored Custody Battles in Arizona
- Arizona Child Custody Attorneys
- Arizona Child Custody Statutes
- Arizona Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Statutes
- Changing a Child’s Last Name in Arizona
- Changing Child Custody in Arizona
- Child Custody and Child Support in Arizona
- Child Custody In Arizona
- Child Custody Laws in Arizona
- Child Custody Rights in Arizona
- Co-Parenting After Divorce in Arizona
- Custody of a Child to Grandparent in Arizona
- Delegation of Custody Decisions in Arizona
- Divorce and Grandparents Visitation in Arizona
- Effective Co-Parenting in Arizona
- Emergency Child Custody in Arizona
- Emergency Child Custody Orders in Arizona
- Enforce Parenting Time or Custody in Arizona
- Enforce Visitation Non-Custodial Parent in Arizona
- Grandparent’s Rights in Arizona
- How is Child Custody Determined in Arizona
- How to Change a Child’s Last Name in Arizona
- How to Enforce Parenting Time in Arizona
- How to Get Sole Custody in Arizona
- How to Modify Child Custody in Arizona
- How to Modify Visitation in Arizona
- Joint Custody and School Decisions in Arizona
- Joint Custody vs Sole Custody Arizona
- Joint Legal Custody or Joint Decision Making in Arizona
- Modifying Visitation With a Child in Arizona
- Moving Children Many Times in Arizona
- Order of Protection and Child Custody in Arizona
- Parent Information Program Class in Arizona
- Parent Move Out of State With A Child From Arizona
- Parental Alienation in Arizona
- Prepare for Child Custody Evaluation in Arizona
- Presumption of Equal Parenting Time in Arizona
- Restrictions in Arizona on Taking Children to Another Country
- Sole Legal Custody or Sole Decision Making in Arizona
- Sole or Joint Custody in Arizona
- Temporary Child Custody in Arizona
- Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in Arizona
- What Are the Child Custody Factors in Arizona
- What Determines Child Custody in Arizona
- What is a Child Custody Evaluation in Arizona
- What is a Parenting Coordinator in an Arizona Child Custody Case
- What Is Domestic Violence in Arizona
- What Types of Child Custody Are There in Arizona
- What Visitation or Parenting Time Schedules do Judges Order in Arizona
- Who Has Custody of Children When a Divorce is Filed in Arizona
- Who Is the Best Child Custody Lawyer in Arizona
- Withholding Child From Custodial Parent in Arizona
What’s Hot – Blog
About the Author: Chris Hildebrand has over 26 years of Arizona family law experience and received awards from US News and World Report, Phoenix Magazine, Arizona Foothills Magazine and others. Visit https://www.hildebrandlaw.com.