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Grahm v. Superior Court

    Brief Fact Summary
    Mr. Grahm (Plaintiff) sought to modify custody in California while the children and Mrs. Grahm (Defendant) lived in New York. The California trial court declined to exercise jurisdiction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    A California court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over a child custody determination that originated in California until a court in the state determines that neither the child, nor the child and one parent have significant connections with the state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in the state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.

    Facts
    Mr. Grahm (Plaintiff) and Mrs. Grahm (Defendant) were married and divorced in California. They had two children who were born in California. As part of the divorce decree, the court granted joint custody to both parents, and primary physical custody to Mrs. Graham (Defendant). One month prior to entry of the judgment, Defendant moved to New York with consent of Plaintiff. Afterwards, Plaintiff sought to modify custody in California. The California trial court declined to exercise jurisdiction.

    Issue
    Does a California court have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over a child custody determination that originated in California until a court in the state determines that neither the child, nor the child and one parent have significant connections with the state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in the state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships?

    Held
    (Hastings, J.) Yes. A California court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over a child custody determination that originated in California until a court in the state determines that neither the child, nor the child and one parent have significant connections with the state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in the state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. The out-of-state residency of the children and Mrs. Grahm (Defendant) does not terminate a significant connection with California, as long as a parent continues to exercise visitation rights in California. Case law interpreting “significant connections†as the term applied to the old Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJEA) also applies to the new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, as the new act kept a lot of the original language of the old, and since the drafters of the new act had the same goal as the old regarding modification jurisdiction, which was to keep modification jurisdiction in the decreeing state until all of the connection between the parent and child is lost. The California legislature meant to preserve in the new act the construction of “significant connection†by case law as applied to the old act. Also, it is not clear that the lower court determined that substantial evidence is no longer available in California about the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. The California trial court reversed and Mr. Grahm’s (Plaintiff) petition was granted.

    Discussion
    It could be argued that by applying case law that applied to the UCCJEA’s predecessor to the UCCJEA, the California appeals court tried to avoid a change that was undesirable in the law allowing California to keep jurisdiction even without significant connections between the state and the mother. Additionally, it could be argued that the appeals court stretched to find that the lower court judge failed to determine that substantial evidence regarding the children’s welfare was no longer available in California. The lower court judge said: “Neither the child nor the child and one parent nor the child and a person acting as a parent ha[s] a significant connection with this state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationship. I am making that determination today.†The statement appears to be clear, regardless of the appeals court holding to the contrary.


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