three states, 1 custody struggle

Q: I got divorced in Massachusetts but later moved to California. My ex relocated a year later to Nevada with our daughter. I agreed because that brought her nearer to me. Now our daughter is 15 and wants to live with me in California. She came out during the winter break after a fight with my ex and we agreed she could stay for a semester. Well, my ex wants her back in Nevada and I want her to stay in California.

In April, my ex filed a compliant for modification in Massachusetts to recalculate child support and change our parenting plan. She says because she filed before our daughter was in California for six months, Massachusetts is where we have to have this fight. I’m so confused because none of us has lived in Massachusetts for the last two years.

Do I have to come back to Massachusetts to do this? Or can I move this fight to California?

A: Based on the information you provided I cannot say for sure whether California has jurisdiction to make this determination or if the better place is Nevada. For sure, Massachusetts is the wrong place. We are the only state in the country that has not adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. Had we adopted it, filing in Massachusetts could have been OK but then you could still file in California and ask for the two judges to have a conference to determine which forum is the most convenient based on the location of relevant witnesses.

Massachusetts looses jurisdiction over child custody when the child has lived elsewhere for more than six months. It appears your ex is confused on this point. The real question is which jurisdiction is the most convenient forum as between California and Nevada. So, I suggest you file to register the Massachusetts orders in California and then a modification action there. Simultaneously you need to hire a lawyer in Massachusetts to file a limited appearance solely to contest jurisdiction.

The challenge then became Massachusetts could take jurisdiction over the child support piece under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act because the order originated here. However, where no one lives here now, that issue should also be moved to a more convenient forum. So, in that same motion to contest jurisdiction over the custody piece, ask the court to have a call with the California judge on the issue of support and to decline jurisdiction in favor of California.

Your ex may catch wind of her mistake and file in Nevada for the same relief, so I suggest you act swiftly in California. Also, be sure that your daughter’s teachers, coaches, neighbors, dentist/doctors and the like are available to make statements over the summer as to why they have the most relevant information so you can show California is the most convenient place to decide the issues . Finally, forum shopping is frowned upon so play that card if she files in Nevada.

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