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Exceptions to the UCCJEA ‘Home State’ Rule and How They Can Affect Your Florida Custody or Timesharing Case

gavelWhen you are dealing with a child custody or timesharing case that crosses state lines, the case can become complicated. You must deal with all of the requirements of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. That law says that custody and timesharing cases generally must be heard by a court in the child’s “home state.” However, if you live in Florida, and your child’s home state is somewhere else, there are certain situations in which you may still be able to bring your case here. In a recent Fifth District Court of Appeal case, the appeals court upheld a Florida trial court’s decision to modify timesharing, based upon the presence of “emergency” circumstances.

In 2015, a trial court in Lubbock County, Texas issued the final order in R.E.’s (father) and B.Q.’s (mother) divorce, which, among other things, set up custody and timesharing involving the couple’s two children, both of whom lived in Texas. The order granted majority timesharing to the father in Texas and the remainder of the time to the mother, who lived in Florida.

In February 2016, B.Q. filed an action in Putnam County, Florida, seeking to modify custody, timesharing, and child support. At the same time as she filed this pleading, she also sought an emergency order from the trial court in Putnam County that would completely suspend the father’s timesharing. The mother asserted that she took this action because the father’s sister had confided in her that the children were not safe with the father. Further evidence potentially enhancing this argument included the father’s having checked himself into a mental health facility, due to “hearing voices” and having suicidal thoughts. On at least one occasion, the father’s neighbor called the police on him. The father himself had confessed to the mother that he took strong medications to deal with his “mental problems.”

One important hurdle that the mother had to deal with was the UCCJEA. That statute says that requests like the one the mother made of the Putnam County court should be litigated in the “home state” of the children; otherwise, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case at all. In this case, the mother argued that Putnam County had been the children’s place of residence, but only since November 2015. The court in Putnam County concluded that it had jurisdiction over the case and cut off all of the father’s timesharing.

In some cases, the father might have been able to argue successfully that Florida wasn’t the children’s UCCJEA “home state” and that Florida didn’t have jurisdiction over the case. However, the UCCJEA allows courts from states other than the home state to assert jurisdiction in certain emergency situations, and that emergency protocol applied in this family’s case. The UCCJEA’s emergency jurisdiction criteria can be invoked “if the child is present in this state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.” In this case, the Fifth District determined that the father’s mental health problems and related hospitalization were enough to meet the UCCJEA’s requirements and allow the Florida courts to assert jurisdiction and give the mother the relief she sought.

There was, however, one technical error in the Putnam County court’s action. The court did not, as required by law, contact the court in Lubbock to resolve any conflicts between what the Florida court recently ordered and what the Texas court had originally ordered in the divorce judgment. That did not require overturning what the Putnam County court did; the Fifth District merely remanded with instructions for the Putnam court to contact the Lubbock court.

In any custody and timesharing case, but especially in one involving the complications of multiple states, it helps to have knowledgeable family law counsel on your side. The South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have handled many cases involving timesharing, custody, and the UCCJEA. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Obtaining Emergency Relief in Your Florida Timesharing Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 20, 2015

How to Obtain a Custody Modification in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 11, 2015