What are California’s Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws?

By | April 1, 2017

There are a number of different situations in which questions pertaining to child custody jurisdiction will come into play. Topping this list are cases in which a parent takes a child, who was either born in California or a long time resident, across state lines, and refuses to return to California. Such a scenario raises questions of whether or not the great state of California has the power to rule on the custody of that child.

The common legal term a person will hear in this type of situation is “home state.” Child custody jurisdiction, in large part, depends on what state is the child’s home state. Whether or not the concept of home state applies in a given situation depends on the specifics of the case. It is because of the complexities of questions like this, that anyone with concerns about jurisdiction and custody should contact a lawyer.

Situations in which a child is kept out of state by one parent without the permission of the other can be highly emotional. During these times of family crisis, it is important that you get through the crisis with the help of a qualified legal professional. If your spouse is threatening to leave the state with your children, read this page. Continue reading to learn more about California’s jurisdiction laws.

 

A Real Life Example (Nightmare) of Child Custody Jurisdiction

While there are any number of scenarios in which questions of jurisdiction and child custody might arise, one example can be found in a 2012 piece published by the Huffington Post. Though it is not a California specific case, the story serves as a cautionary tale about those who attempt to fight a custody battle or get divorced without the help of a good lawyer.

The story involves a recently divorced couple named Todd and Elaine. The two had a four-year-old child together named Jeremy. Post divorce, Jeremy continued living with Elaine, while Todd, who remarried, moved 2,000 miles away. At the time of the separation, Todd agreed to a simple divorce. No formal order was given regarding custody of the child. Elaine wanted her son to have a relationship with his father, and agreed to let the child visit Todd for six weeks in the summer.

Unfortunately, on the day Elaine was planning to pick up her son at the airport following his visit, she got a phone call from her ex saying Jeremy wouldn’t be coming home. The following day, she was served with papers from a court in Todd’s home state. He was seeking custody of Jeremy. After the legal battle, she lost custody.

While Elaine ultimately lost custody of her son, it’s important to remember that every custody case is different, and in California, jurisdictional authority often applies. Continue reading to learn more about how this story might be viewed under California law.

What the Law Says About Home State

While there are a number of variables that could affect the outcome of situation similar to the one described, we can look at the concept of home state and how it affects cases similar to Elaine’s.

According to California’s Family Code § 3402(e), “home state” is defined as the state

“in which the child … lived with the child’s parents, a parent, or a person acting as parent, for at least six consecutive months.”

The law also states that if the child is younger than six months old, the state in which he or she was born is considered home state.

So what does this mean in terms of jurisdiction? Under California’s Family Code § 3403 it means that a California court has child custody jurisdiction if the definition of home state is met. Had Jeremy been born in California, and lived with his mother continuously for at least six months, the state’s court would have had jurisdiction and been able to make a ruling. A California court would likely issue an order for the child’s return.

But there are many other factors that play into jurisdiction. If you are at all concerned about this, do not delay. Contact a family lawyer who will answer your questions as soon as you can.

California's Child Custody Jurisdiction Laws | Family Law

Does a Child’s Temporary Absence Impact Jurisdiction?

Generally speaking, the answer is no. Just because a child leaves the state temporarily to visit another parent or relative, California’s jurisdictional authority isn’t necessarily nullified.

The operative word in this question is “temporary.” If the child was on a vacation, obtaining medical care, or visiting relatives, his or her home state could still be California. Accordingly, the laws of this state would still have jurisdiction in regard to custody.

Do counties matter? For example, if live in Orange County and your ex moves to San Diego county, will that matter? No, not in this context. Generally, CA’s laws apply throughout the state. There are not county specific laws regarding child custody (except for court procedural rules).

What if a State Other Than California Takes Action?

In any situation where child custody is a factor, and especially when another state takes an action in regard to that child, it is important the parent in the child’s home state make the appropriate legal response as quickly as possible. Child custody jurisdiction issues need to be addressed immediately. California will defer to another state if jurisdiction can be established in that state (time matters!). While laws regarding custody vary from state to state, it’s important to remember that other states follow similar rules as California.

Consulting a Child Custody Lawyer

If you are going through a divorce, separation or custody feud, it is highly recommended that you speak with a qualified family attorney. While divorce and separation between two people can be difficult, when children and custody are factored into the equation, things can become extraordinarily complicated and emotional. It’s important that you have an objective legal mind on your side to help you navigate the process. If you have questions about California’s child custody jurisdiction laws, contact our office to see how we can help.

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