The Supremes (three Black women) singing into mics with their hands out in front of them.

14 Mar Bonus Round Up: “Where Did Our Case Go?” by the KY Supremes

The Kentucky Supreme Court (hereinafter “The Supremes”) issued an Opinion on child custody jurisdiction this morning.

The decision is based on the application of the Unified Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which the Supremes acknowledge was “enacted with the intent to ‘discourage jurisdictional controversies between the states,’ and ‘promote uniformity in state jurisdictional laws.’” However, the Supremes’ Opinion does little to align with those intentions.

The fight between the parents was over whether Kentucky (mom’s choice) or Texas (dad’s pick) had jurisdiction over custody matters. The problem was compounded by the family’s brief stay in the state of Washington – 4 months and 4 days to be exact. In the end, the Kentucky and Texas courts came to differing conclusions, with each state claiming to be the correct forum for deciding matters related to the child. The Supremes agreed with the Jefferson County Family Court, finding that the case should be in Kentucky.

It is worth noting that the UCCJEA teleconference between the respective judges was delayed for an inordinate period of time. The Supremes even noted that “that conference did not occur until more than a year later, and little record was made of its contents.” This is a clear sign that the case was mishandled from the beginning.

Today’s Opinion fails to remedy the situation. The Supremes found that neither state possessed initial jurisdiction, but Kentucky had emergency jurisdiction and, therefore, ongoing jurisdiction. The decision weighs in favor of an objective test when addressing where the child “lived,” as opposed to a subjective test. In the end, the opinion is binding on Kentucky courts but does not control how the courts of sister states might address the same “bedeviling” issues.  Ultimately, the decision will increase the costs, the unpredictability, and the delays in child jurisdiction cases.

Further, the Opinion does not seem to recognize the fact that “emergency jurisdiction” might be abused to transfer a case to an otherwise jurisdiction-less state. This might lead to an increase in EPO or Abuse Petitions that are designed to move a case rather than due to actual violence or abuse.

It would have been better for the Supremes to adopt a flowchart approach to streamline this case. For an example of this, see page 2 of the UCCJEA Guide for Court Personnel and Judges, a publication of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

For now, Family Law attorneys and judges will just have to live with this decision.


Click here for the previous Round Up.