May 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

We sometimes are not as attentive to the requirements of the UCCJEA as we should be.  Take the following case, for example:

Delisa Miller and Ryan Mills began living together in Madison Parish, Louisiana, in 2005.  They had two children, a son born in 2007, and a daughter born in 2008.  Ryan went to prison in December 2008, at which time Delisa and the children moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, according to Ryan’s pleadings. 

On July 14, 2009, after he was released, Ryan filed pleadings in Louisiana to establish parentage, for custody, and for visitation.  His pleading recited that, although Delisa was residing in Mississippi, her domicile remained in Louisiana.  On July 23, 2009, Delisa filed a petition for custody in the County Court of Warren County, Mississippi.  Her case was referred to Warren County Youth Court, which dismissed it on the basis that Louisiana already was exercising jurisdiction.   

On August 3, 2009, the Louisiana court held a hearing in Delisa’s absence, finding that it had jurisdiction under Louisiana’s long-arm statute, and granted Ryan visitation.

Ryan filed pleadings in the Chancery Court of Warren County seeking to register the Louisiana judgment, which Delisa opposed, and the chancellor ruled on October 23, 2009, that the judgment was lawful and binding, and that it should be registered and enforced.  Delisa appealed.

In Miller v. Mills, decided May 3, 2011, the COA noted that the Mississippi courts are required by MCA § 93-27-203(l) to enforce another state’s child custody determination if the other state “exercised jurisdiction in substantial conformity with [the UCCJEA].”  The COA held that the record did not support a finding that Louisiana was the children’s home state within the meaning of the UCCJEA at the time that Ryan commenced his Louisiana action, and that, as a result, Louisiana did not exercise jurisdiction in substantial conformity with the UCCJEA.  The court held that registration of the Louisiana order in Mississipi was void.  The trial court’s ruling was reversed and rendered.

Ryan had argued that, since the Louisiana court had obtained jurisdiction over Delisa through that state’s long-arm statute, he had the right to proceed.  Judge Maxwell’s opinion brushed aside that argument and pointed out that UCCJEA jurisdiction is subject matter jurisdiction that may not be waived or conferred by consent.    

This case stands for the proposition that the UCCJEA’s provisions are absolutely jurisdictional, and unless a jurisdictional basis exists pursuant to its provisions, jurisdiction may not be acquired by some other means.

I have seen many cases where the lawyers take a somewhat relaxed approach to the UCCJEA requirements.  You do so at your own peril.  The case you thought you had dealt with so deftly could come boomeranging back in quite unwelcome fashion.

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  • […] Remember that under White, although the recitation of the jurisdictional language is not mandatory for the court to exercise jurisdiction, you still have to prove that the court has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. When the MSSC said that “This issue is not jurisdictional,” it was referring to the matter at hand, which was the sufficiency of the pleadings, and not to the substance of jurisdiction in the case. It’s an important distinction. See, Miller v. Mills, decided by the COA May 3, 2011; you can read a post about the case here. […]

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