On December 1, 2012 national news was made after Kansas Chief linebacker and National Football League player, Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his girlfriend and then took his own life outside of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Jovan Belcher and his former girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, left behind a four year old daughter who was living with them in Missouri.
After the death of her mother and father, separate petitions were filed seeking custody of the recently orphaned four year old girl. At approximately the same time that the mother of Jevon Belcher filed a Petition in the State of Missouri seeking custody of her granddaughter, the parents of Kasandra Perkins filed a separate Petition in the State of Texas seeking custody of same child. On Thursday January 13, 2013 the judge presiding over the matter in the State of Missouri and the judge presiding over the matter in the State of Texas held a conference call during which it was determined that the Petition filed in the State of Texas would be dismissed and that exclusive jurisdiction over child custody lies in the State of Missouri, and therefore the Petition filed in Missouri would proceed.
In the State of Missouri, how will the Court determine which state has jurisdiction over the custody of a child when a separate custody action is filed in another state involving the same child?
As a fundamental principle of family law, separate and differing orders of custody involving the same child cannot be entered by different judges in different courts. Yet in today’s more transient society, it is not that uncommon for parents to file separate actions in different states involving the same child. In order to assist in addressing this circumstance, the Missouri Legislature enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) in the late summer of 2009. Section 452.700 RSMo – 452.930 RSMo
The UCCJEA has now been enacted in 49 states (Massachusetts being the exception), the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. The law is “Uniform” and is used to determine which state or territory has “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction” over the custody of the child.
For matters involving an initial custody determination, the child’s “home state” on the date the custody proceedings are filed shall have exclusive jurisdiction over custody of the minor child. When a child has lived in a particular state with a parent or person acting as a parent for six (6) consecutive months immediately prior to filing, that state will be determined the child’s “home state”.
In order to assist Judges in determining which State has jurisdiction, the UCCJEA enables Courts in separate states to communicate with each other to exchange facts and legal arguments. Do to the enactment UCCJEA in Missouri and Texas, this is what happened between the Judges in the proceeding filed by the family of Jovan Belcher in the State of Missouri and the family of Kasandra Perkins filed in the State of State of Texas. Without specific knowledge of the facts and arguments that were discussed between the two jurisdictions in this particular matter, an educated assumption can be made that an agreement was reached that Missouri was the “home state” for this young girl and that therefore, Missouri has exclusive Jurisdiction to make the initial determination of custody.
This post addresses UCCJEA’s potential application to this particular circumstance. However, the statute itself covers a variety of multi-state custody circumstances, including but not limited to circumstances when a child has not lived within a single state for six consecutive months immediately prior to the filing of a petition and how the law applies to circumstances when a modification of a custody order is filed in a different state other than the State where the initial custody order was issued. Therefore if you or a loved one have a potential multi-state custody issue, it is critical that you discuss your matter with an experienced Missouri family law attorney who will be able to help you navigate through this often complex situation.