An important aspect of child custody involves enforcing interstate orders in different states because parents move around the country all the time. If you have a child custody order from say, North Carolina, and you want to enforce or modify it in another state, you must register it the right way.
Carolina in My Mind
One interstate case showed the problems that can result if the rules are not followed. A father with a daughter was divorced in Florida in 2016. The parties lived for a while in North Carolina too, and the Father had obtained a North Carolina custody order. When they divorced in Florida, they domesticated their 2014 North Carolina order in Florida. The North Carolina order awarded full legal custody of the daughter to the father, and the mother was given visitation.
Fast forward to 2020, and the mother filed her own ex parte emergency petition in Florida to domesticate a new North Carolina custody order in Florida. This new order was completely different, and awarded the mother emergency custody of the daughter.
However, even though the petition was ex parte and titled an “emergency”, the mother’s petition did not allege any kind of emergency situation. But mistakes happen. That same day, a Florida family judge entered an order granting the mother’s petition and domesticating the January 2020 North Carolina custody order in Florida.
The new Florida order did not list any emergency situation and was never served on the father, so the father didn’t have any notice of it. To his shock, the police showed up one night and the child was taken from him. Afterwards, the father filed a motion to vacate and set aside the Florida ex parte order, but the family judge in Florida denied it.
The Father appealed.
Florida Interstate Child Custody
I’ve written and spoken about interstate child custody issues before. The typical interstate problems occur in cases in which two parents reside in one state, like North Carolina for instance, then one or more of the parents and the children move across state lines to Florida.
Interstate problems can include enforcing foreign custody orders, enforcing or modifying family support orders (like alimony and child support), or enforcing foreign money judgments.
To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.
With respect to family law, different American states had previously adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, interstate alimony, and child support. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.
To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.
A major problem arises when a foreign or out of state final judgment is not properly registered or domesticated in Florida. When that happens, a serious due process violation can occur, because people are entitled to notice.
Registration is not too complicated. Briefly, registration involves sending to the new state a letter requesting registration along with two copies of the order sought to be registered, a statement that the order has not been modified, the name and address of the person seeking registration, and any parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.
Hit Me from Behind
On appeal, the Father complained that the family judge in Florida didn’t properly follow the registration requirements in the UCCJEA. The Act required the Mother to provide “the name and address of the person seeking registration and any parent or person acting as a parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.”
The UCCJEA also requires the Florida family court to actually “[s]erve notice upon the persons named … and provide them with an opportunity to contest the registration in accordance with this section.”
On appeal, it was clear that the Florida court didn’t comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA. The Mother had failed to file the North Carolina final judgment or the accompanying documents as required.
In addition, the family court never provided the father with notice of the petition to domesticate the North Carolina order, thereby depriving the father of an opportunity to contest the validity of the North Carolina order – which is his right under the UCCJEA.
Because the Florida court failed to comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA and deprived the father with an opportunity to be heard, the resulting Florida order was declared void.
The case is here.