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FAMILY LAW 48 : Michigan paternity action must be dismissed because California was child’s home state.

The child was born to defendant in April 2018.  The birth certificate did not identify the father, nor was an affidavit or acknowledgment of paternity executed.  After various legal troubles and intervention by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mother executed a power of attorney “regarding the care, custody and property of” the child to a married couple who resided in California and wanted to adopt the child.  Despite being given notice, the father did not object to the adoption or otherwise appear in the California adoption proceeding.  Instead, he filed a paternity action in Michigan.

The trial court took the matter under advisement and subsequently issued a short written opinion and order on December 3, 2019, granting defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis of jurisdiction.  The trial court, citing MCL 722.1102(d), first indicated that the UCCJEA defines a child custody proceeding as encompassing a paternity action and a proceeding to terminate parental rights.  The court then stated that a child’s home state is defined under MCL 722.1102(g) as the state where the child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. 

ANALYSIS

On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in determining that California was the child’s home state under the UCCJEA, that the court erred by failing to apply the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and that the court erred by deferring to the exercise of jurisdiction by the California court.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Absent a factual dispute, this Court reviews de novo, as a question of law, whether a trial court has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. But even if a court may exercise jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, the decision do so is within the discretion of the trial court, and will not be reversed absent an abuse of that discretion. Generally, an appellate court should defer to the trial court's judgment, and if the trial court's decision results in an outcome within the range of principled outcomes, it has not abused its discretion. Additionally, the clear legal error standard applies where the trial court errs in its choice, interpretation, or application of the existing law. This Court reviews issues of statutory construction de novo. 

 RULES OF STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION

This Court’s role in construing statutory language is to discern and ascertain the intent of the Legislature, which may reasonably be inferred from the words in the statute.  We must focus our analysis on the express language of the statute because it offers the most reliable evidence of legislative intent.  When statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we must apply the statute as written.   A court is not permitted to read anything into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature. 

THE UCCJEA

 The UCCJEA “governs interstate child custody disputes.”  Under the UCCJEA, a “child-custody proceeding” is defined as “a proceeding in which legal custody, physical custody, or parenting time with respect to a child is an issue[,]” and it includes “a proceeding for . . . paternity [and] termination of parental rights.”  MCL 722.1102(d).1  And a “child-custody determination” is defined as “a judgment, decree, or other court order providing for legal custody, physical custody, or parenting time with respect to a child.”  MCL 722.1102(c).  

The court first concluded that Michigan was not the child’s home state under MCL 722.1201(1)(a) when the paternity suit was filed. 

 The trial court did not have jurisdiction to make a child-custody determination with respect to plaintiff’s paternity action under any of the other subdivisions of MCL 722.1201(1), as required to exercise jurisdiction because California met all the qualifications.

The Court rejected the father’s argument that a phone record of the conversation between the California and Michigan Judges needed to be made.

THE ICPCA

The father argues that the trial court erred by failing to apply the ICPCA to find jurisdiction, which act the court completely ignored.  The introduction to the ICPCA states that it is an act “providing for the joinder of this state in an interstate compact on the placement of children[.]”  The mother did not seek to exercise a right under the ICPCA; therefore, the Michigan court did not have jurisdiction over the case pursuant to the ICPCA and the father’s reliance on this is misplaced.

MOOTNESS

Even if the Court were wrong in its analysis, it would still find against the father because the issue of paternity is moot since California had already terminated the father’s parental rights after appropriate notice was given.

ADVICE TO CLIENTS FACING INTERSTATE FAMILY LAW CASES

 Aldrich Legal Services understands what a stressful time this is for you when your paternity rights are on the line.

Aldrich Legal Services represent parents throughout southeast Michigan with a wide range of family law related matters.

Contact Aldrich Legal Services

Speak to a Pro: (734) 404-3000

 

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