U.C.C.J.E.A. and “Home State” Jurisdiction

Jewel and her husband were married in 2012 while they were living in Michigan. They then moved to Georgia and had their only child while living in Georgia during 2015. In early 2016 they all moved back to Michigan where they remained until December 2018 when they all moved to California. They lived together in California for approximately 13 months through the end of 2019. Jewels family resided mostly in Michigan, her husband worked for a company with its base in Atlanta, and she was unhappy in California and the marriage was suffering.

Her husband agreed that they would move back to Georgia and begin marriage counseling and he could transfer to the Atlanta location of his employer for work. On or about February 12, 2020 they moved to Georgia. Within a month after being in Georgia the husband moved out and began living with his mistress. Things being unworkable for Jewel and not being able to find suitable employment, she decided to move to Michigan in May 2020 to be near her family and took their child with her. Then during late July 2020, the husband filed for divorce and was seeking primary physical custody of the child. He served Jewel with process in Michigan.

Jewel retained me and we filed a limited answer and objected to jurisdiction in Georgia based on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”). In a lawsuit where both parties reside in the State of Georgia, the proper place to file the lawsuit is in the county where the Defendant resides. However, in cases with custody issues and parents living in separate states, that rule changes and the proper place to file the lawsuit is in the county of the child’s residence in the child’s “Home State.”

Home State is defined as where the child has resided for the last 6 months prior to the filing of the lawsuit. At the time her husband filed the divorce, the child had lived in Georgia for about 4 months, but was then living in Michigan where he had been for about 2 months. Thus, Georgia had not gained “Home State” jurisdiction and neither had Michigan. It would make no sense for the divorce case to be filed in California. We filed a Motion to Dismiss the case for improper jurisdiction and inconvenient forum.

Why would it be important to the parties if the divorce was resolved in Georgia versus Michigan? The court making the initial determination of custody will retain jurisdiction to enforce and modify that order. Thus, if the case was resolved in Georgia, even though Jewel and their child resided in Michigan, they would be required to deal with the Court in Georgia in the future. On the other hand, if the case was resolved in Michigan, that court would maintain jurisdiction and any future case would take place in Michigan.

We tried and tried to get the other side to agree to some reasonable terms regarding jurisdiction moving forward, but none could be made. At the time of the hearing on our Motion to Dismiss, Jewel and the child had been living in Michigan for longer than 6 months, and the court found in our favor. The court found that Georgia never gained Home State jurisdiction and that the divorce should proceed in Michigan.