Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation
COURT DECLINES JURISDICTION OVER CHILD CUSTODY CASE WHEN CHILDREN RESIDE IN NORTH CAROLINA
While Pennsylvania had jurisdiction over the parties’ two children who lived in North Carolina with their mother, the court declined to exercise jurisdiction over this custody dispute because North Carolina, where the children received significant medical care, was the more appropriate forum. The court granted mother’s preliminary objection.
Mother and father are the natural parents of twin sons born in April 2016. The children were born in Berks County, Pennsylvania and resided with their parents until early November 2016. At that point, the family chose to move to North Carolina because mother’s brother offered an attractive rent-to-own agreement. However, the parties separated on March 18, 2017, and father chose to move back to Pennsylvania. He took up residence in Lancaster County, where his parents lived. Father then filed a complaint seeking primary custody of the children. He also filed an emergency petition for special relief. Mother, who continued to reside in North Carolina with the children, filed a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania court. She sought to transfer the case to North Carolina. The court noted that Pennsylvania had jurisdiction over the children under Section 5421(a)(1) the Pennsylvania Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCJEA). This statute provides that Pennsylvania is the home state of a child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from the state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in Pennsylvania. Thus, Pennsylvania had jurisdiction over the children. Pennsylvania’s home state status was not affected by the fact that the children lived in North Carolina at the commencement of the proceedings, the court observed. “Under the law, it is preferred that the home state assume jurisdiction,” the opinion stated. However, the court found that under the circumstances of this case, Pennsylvania was an inconvenient forum and that the case should be heard in North Carolina. While father’s North Carolina residency was short-lived, the parties chose to move to North Carolina together, the court noted. Significantly, the children were born prematurely and required certain medical care. Mother had in place the necessary pediatric and physical therapy in North Carolina. While father pledged to provide similar care in Lancaster County, most of the medical care had taken place in North Carolina. To the extent evidence would be required from health care professionals; North Carolina would provide a more convenient forum. The court determined that other relevant factors under the statute were not germane, as both parties were of relatively modest financial means and they would have to travel for hearings regardless. The court also considered that neither party, nor the children had any current ties to Berks County. As such, the court declined to exercise jurisdiction in Pennsylvania and concluded that North Carolina was the more appropriate forum for this matter.
Reference: Dodson v. Stroud, PICS Case No. 17-1381 (C.P. Berks Aug. 14, 2017) Lash, J. Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 892 (Tuesday, September 26, 2017)
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