Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Mother surrendered custody of her child to petitioners, as did the person mother alleged as father. Mother later recanted and admitted another father was the biological father, and this father petitioned for paternity and custody. The Iowa court granted father custody, but a Michigan court granted petitioners request to modify the custody ruling.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a custody determination in a state is consistent with the provisions of the UCJA and the PKPA, every State shall enforce its terms and not modify the decision.
Facts. On February 8, 1991 Cara Clausen gave birth to a baby girl. On February 10, she signed a release of custody, relinquishing her parental rights to the child, and named Scott Seefeld as the father. On February 14, he executed a release of custody. On February 25, petitioners, Michigan residents, petitioned the Iowa court to adopt the child. At hearing, the parental rights of Clausen and Seefeld were terminated, and petitioners were granted custody during the pendency of the proceeding. Petitioners returned to Michigan with the child. Nine days after filing of the adoption proceeding Clausen filed a motion to revoke her release of custody stating that she had lied when she named Seefeld as the father and that the actual father was Daniel Schmidt. Schmidt filed an affidavit of paternity seeking to intervene in the adoption proceeding initiated by petitioners. The Iowa court found that Schmidt was the biological father and that petitioners failed to establish either that he
had abandoned the child or that his rights should be terminated. It determined that the best interests of the child analysis becomes appropriate only after a showing of abandonment. The court concluded that the termination proceedings were void with respect to Schmidt, and the petitioners’ petition to adopt must be denied. Petitioners filed a petition in Michigan asking the court to assume jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCJA). They requested the court enjoin enforcement of the Iowa custody order and find it was unenforceable, or in the alternative to modify it to give custody to the petitioners. The Michigan court entered an ex parte temporary restraining order directing the child to remain in the custody of petitioners and ordered Schmidt not to remove the child. The Michigan court found it had jurisdiction to find the best interests of the child, denied Schmidt’s motion for summary judgment, and directed that the child remain with petitioners
until further order of the court.
Issue. Did the Michigan court have jurisdiction to rule on the petitioner’s claims and did petitioners have standing?
Held. Michigan did not have jurisdiction and petitioners did not have standing based upon the previous Iowa ruling and the UCJA and PKPA.
The UCJA provides standards for determining whether a state may take jurisdiction of a child custody dispute and sets forth circumstances in which the courts of other states are prohibited from subsequently taking jurisdiction, are required to enforce custody decisions, and are permitted to modify such decisions. The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) imposes a duty on States to enforce a child custody determination entered by a court of a sister Stet if the determination is consistent with the provisions of the Act. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Schmidt that the court lacked jurisdiction to modify the Iowa custody orders and was required to enforce them.
The purpose of the PKPA is to deal with inconsistent and conflicting law and practices by which courts determine their jurisdiction to decide disputes between persons claiming custody. The petitioners’ argument is that the best interests purpose of the PKPA mandates a best interests analysis in Iowa, and that Iowa’s decision is not entitled to full faith and credit without such analysis. Thus, the forum state is permitted to address the merits of the case and modify the foreign decree.
Certainty and stability are given priority under the PKPA, with the home state retaining exclusive continuing jurisdiction. If a custody determination is consistent with its provisions, every State shall enforce its terms and not modify the decision. At the time of the termination and adoption proceedings, Iowa unquestionably had jurisdiction. Schmidt continued to reside in Iowa. The state may only modify Iowa’s order if Iowa has declined to exercise its jurisdiction to modify it. Iowa has not so declined.
Petitioners first argue that the UCCJA grants them standing in this case. The Iowa district court’s ruling granting them temporary custody may have created standing, but when the temporary custody order was rescinded, they became third parties to the child and no longer had a basis on which to claim a substantive right of custody. The next friend of the child argues the right of a minor child to bring a Child Custody Act action and obtain a best interests of the child hearing regarding her custody. The act’s consistent distinction between the parties and the child makes clear that the act is intended to resolve disputes among adults seeking custody of the child. Children have a due process liberty, however, in this Court’s view it is not independent of the child’s parents. The natural parent’s right to custody s not to be disturbed absent a showing of unfitness.
This Court also disagrees with the next friend’s assertion that the child’s interests were not considered in Iowa. A guardian ad litem was appointed before Schmidt moved to intervene. There is no basis for requiring the court to use the best interests of the child standard.
Dissent. The PKPA was enacted to protect the child in the interest of greater stability of home environment and of secure family relationships for the child. The home state is the state which can best decide the case in the interest of the child, defined as where the child lived with his parents, a parent, or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months. Michigan is the child’s home state because she lived in Michigan with petitioners, persons acting as a parent, for at least six consecutive months. There is more substantial evidence concerning the child’s present or future care, protection, training and personal relationships in Michigan than in Iowa. The subject matter jurisdiction in adoption should be where the adoptive parents reside and the child is physically present. A decree rendered by a state other than the home state is not a determination made consistent with the provisions of the PKPA. A decree rendered without consideration of the child’s best i
nterests is not a decree that the Congress intended that all other states must enforce.
Discussion. The majority found that Michigan was without jurisdiction to modify the Iowa ruling based upon the UCCJA and the PKPA. The minority found that Iowa never had jurisdiction, and that the failure of Iowa to address the best interests of the child rendered the decision unenforceable.