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Where in the world did I file this case? Jurisdiction in Child Custody Cases

The set of laws that sets the standard in the United States for determining what state has jurisdiction over a child custody matter is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

When a court has jurisdiction over a case that means that the court can then create or alter orders that affect a child. This set of laws was adopted by all fifty states except Massachusetts.

In Texas, the UCCJEA has been made a part of the Texas Family Code and can be found in Chapter 152.

The part of the UCCJEA that covers jurisdiction helps a court to determine whether or not they are able to make decisions regarding initial custody disputes, modification of prior court orders as well as when a court may decline to exercise its jurisdiction over a situation.

Making an Initial Custody Decision

When the parties to a child custody case have never before been to a Court of any kind, the court that their initial case is filed in needs to determine if they have jurisdiction over the child.

When a child is a resident of that county and has been continuously so for longer than one hundred and eighty days the decision is made for them. However, in our world where people can be more mobile than ever before, a court’s determination is not always so easy.

Section 152.201 of the Texas Family Code states the circumstances in which a Texas court has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. As previously stated, the easiest way to establish jurisdiction is to have the child’s home state be Texas and to have the case filed in the county where he or she has resided for at least one hundred and eighty days.

If there are no other states that have jurisdiction over the child then Texas may be able to be determined to be the home state for purposes of jurisdiction if either the child’s home state declines to exercise its jurisdiction due to Texas being a better and more convenient forum for the case to be held.

A cautionary tale from a former client of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

A former client of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC learned this lesson the hard way. This gentleman hired our office to represent him when his ex-wife and her husband moved to Texas from their home state of Ohio and in very quick succession filed a child custody modification suit in Harris County.

Our client was served with the paperwork in Ohio and was dumbfounded to learn that his children had been moved to Texas. How this gentleman reacted to this series of events should act as a lesson of what not to do for anyone reading this blog post.

Instead of hiring an attorney, filing an answer, and participating in the suit, our client merely sent a letter to the court in Harris County notifying them of the timeline of events that had occurred and calling into question whether or not Harris County had jurisdiction over the case at all.

While the spirit of what he did was correct, he did not file an Answer as is required of him after having been served with the Modification suit. In failing to file an answer he chose not to attend the conference where the judge in Harris County called the judge in the county where our client’s children formerly resided in Ohio.

The Ohio court chose not to exercise jurisdiction even though it was determined that it could have done so. The case remained in Harris County as a result.

Had our client chosen to participate in the process he could have had his attorney object to this and stood a much better chance of having the case removed from Harris County and heard in Ohio. Instead, he flat out refused to do anything- he simply relied on his concept of right and wrong and believed what the court in Harris County was doing to be without merit.

Regardless, the court in Texas did have proper jurisdiction and issued a modified order without our client being present for any proceeding. By time he hired our office to attempt to address this issue it was too late.

Our child custody lawyers did the best they could to reason with the court but the order remained and jurisdiction was solidified in Texas, along with the changes that were not in our client’s favor.

Emergency Situations that may provide jurisdiction for Texas courts

If a child is physically in Texas and has been abandoned by a parent here, a court in Texas will have temporary emergency jurisdiction to create orders that are intended to protect the best interests of the child in question.

This is also the case when the child has been the victim of abuse or mistreatment of some kind. If no other state has issued any child custody orders the emergency order can become a final order as well.

In every situation a court in Texas must contact an out-of-state court as we saw in the anecdote involving one of our former clients. This is done to ascertain which jurisdiction it was proper to have the case filed in.

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC- Strong Advocates for Texas Families

The bottom line is that if no other state has issued orders on a child and if Texas is the most convenient location to have jurisdiction on the custody matter, then a custody case will most likely be held in Texas.

If you have questions on this area of the law and how it can affect your family, please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC to set up a free of charge consultation with one of our family law attorneys. Don’t allow yourself to make a mistake that may result in your losing time with your child. A call to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can help you decide how to best proceed to protect your rights as a parent.

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