What is Jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction is the ability for a court to hear a case. When two states are involved, the states must decide which court more rightfully has jurisdiction to hear the case so that there are not conflicting orders out of two different courts in two different states. Under the uniform child custody jurisdiction and enforcement act, which Texas has adopted into its family code, a trial court can have jurisdiction over a child custody case under certain circumstances laid out in section 152.201.
Even when a trial court has this jurisdiction under 152.201 of the family code, the court can still defer jurisdiction to another jurisdiction if the court considers itself an “inconvenient forum.” This inconvenient forum provision is codified in section 152.207. The court is supposed to consider certain factors when making this determination that include: (1) whether domestic violence has occurred and is likely to continue in the future and which state could best protect the parties and the child; (2) the length of time the child has resided outside this state; (3) the distance between the court in this state and the court in the state that would assume jurisdiction; (4) the relative financial circumstances of the parties; (5) any agreement of the parties as to which state should assume jurisdiction; (6) the nature and location of the evidence required to resolve the pending litigation, including testimony of the child; (7) the ability of the court of each state to decide the issue expeditiously and the procedures necessary to present the evidence; and (8) the familiarity of the court of each state with the facts and issues in the pending litigation.
How does inconvenient forum play out in real life?
This issue was recently addressed in the Court of Appeals Fifth District of Texas at Dallas in In the Interest of P.M.K., A Minor Child. In that case the mother of the child had moved to Louisiana the day before the father filed the case seeking possession and access to the child. The mother filed a case in Louisiana on the same day. Because of how little time the child had lived in Lousisiana, the trial court found that Texas had jurisdiction under 152.201 of the code. Even though Texas had jurisdiction, the court found that Texas was an inconvenient forum under section 152.207 and that Louisiana would be a more convenient jurisdiction.
The court found that: “While most of the statutory factors did not weigh in favor of one Court over the other, the child had resided for a longer period of time in Texas prior to the filings of both Mother and Father. However, the Mother and child, [P.M.K.], have significant ties to the state of Louisiana, as well as the location of witnesses and evidence is in Louisiana. Further, Father is in a much better financial situation to be able to engage in litigation in Louisiana than Mother is to participate in Texas litigation.” The court also found that both courts would be able to provide an expeditious hearing because both courts had some familiarity with this case as a result of holding hearings on the motion involving inconvenient forum.
As with many issues in the family code, an appellate court will review a trial court’s determination regarding inconvenient forum using an abuse of discretion standard. This standard is very trial court friendly and will almost always result in the trial court decision being upheld. As this lenient standard would suggest, the result in In the Interest of P.M.K. was that the trial court’s decision was upheld.
What does this mean for my case?
In cases that involve more than one state, it is important that your attorney is familiar with the uniform child custody jurisdiction and enforcement act and the inconvenient forum provision. Having an attorney that can advocate on your behalf and explain why the jurisdiction that you desire is the best jurisdiction is important. If you have any questions regarding a multistate custody issue contact Guest and Gray today.