Justice Keyes of Houston’s First District Court of Appeals has written an opinion that shows the differences between jurisdiction over a child and jurisdiction to modify child support. In Lesem v. Mouradian, No. 01-12-01161-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] July 2, 2014), the court affirmed a Texas trial court’s decision to cede jurisdiction over a child who had lived in Florida with his mother for sixteen months. But the trial court should have retained jurisdiction over child support when the father continued to live in Texas.
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Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), jurisdiction over a child follows the child. When a child has moved to another state and has lived there for six months, then that state becomes the child’s “home state.” A Texas court retains jurisdiction over the child as the court of “exclusive continuing jurisdiction,” but the out-of-state parent can petition the Texas court to decide that Texas is an inconvenient forum and that a court of the state where the child now lives would be a more appropriate forum to litigate issues relating to the child. If the Texas court agrees, then it can decline to exercise its jurisdiction and defer to the other court.
Evidence Under the UCCJEA
The father argued that before a Texas court can decline jurisdiction, it must consider the numerous factors set forth in Texas Family Code section 152.207(b), which center on where child custody issues might best be litigated. The father further argued that the Texas court did not make findings that the child lacked any further significant connection to Texas or that Texas was an inconvenient forum. But the court agreed with the mother that the trial court had sufficient information before it for these findings to be implied by its order. No evidentiary hearing was necessary.
Different Rules for the UIFSA
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which governs jurisdiction over child support when a parent moves out of Texas with the child, works differently that the UCCJEA. When a Texas court orders payment of child support, that court is the only one that can modify the child support award so long as the court retains continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over child support. The trial court retains that jurisdiction so long as one of the parents remains in Texas. Because the father in this case still lived in Texas, the trial court erred when it transferred the child support part of the case to Florida.