Interstate Child Custody Jurisdiction Triangle Avoided

An unusual and sad interstate child custody jurisdiction case originates in Arkansas, where family comes from.

Mother got custody of child in the divorce. Father moved to Oklahoma to pursue a professional degree. Later, their child was diagnosed with cancer and Mother and daughter moved to Tennessee for better treatment.

For about two years, the entire family is gone from Arkansas.

Father brings motion in Arkansas for emergency visitation. Mother then requests a stay, registers the original Arkansas judgment in Tennessee, and further requests that the Arkansas court communicate with the Tennessee court.

At the time of an inital child custody proceeding, more than one state may potentially exercise child custody jurisdiction. But, typically, once one state has actually, validly exercised child custody jurisdiction, that original state which exercises jurisdiction over a child [as in a divorce], retains jurisdiction over the child until that original state says it doesn’t.

In practice, most states would likely yield (or decline to exercise) jurisdiction after both parents and the child have moved away from the state. And, according to the Arkansas appellate court, that is usually the case in Arkansas.

Clearly, Mother wanted the Tennesee courts to assume jurisdiction on that basis.

Yet the Arkansas court ruled that it retained jurisdiction. Why?

Because the Tennessee court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the child. Just because a court can do something, doesn’t mean it must – or, in certain cases, should.

In this particular case, the Arkansas court, which had had valid, original jurisdiction, merely occupied the jurisdictional vacuum left by the Tennessee court.

Read more in this Fort Smith [Arkansas] Times Record article.