Officially released September 1, 2020.
In Short: The UCCJEA provides Connecticut with jurisdiction to modify a foreign custody determination where:
Connecticut meets certain criteria of § 46b-115k (1) through (4), and
a. The foreign court itself makes a determination that it no longer has jurisdiction or is inconvenient, or
b. Any court makes a determination that neither party nor the child still reside in the original jurisdiction.
Background facts: The parties were divorced in Florida by agreement and equally divided parenting time with their child on a monthly basis. The settlement agreement provided that the parties negotiate a time-sharing schedule when the child reached school age. Defendant moved to Alabama and Plaintiff moved to Connecticut. Each party sought to enroll the child in Kindergarten in his/her own state.
Both parties filed motion for modification in Florida. Plaintiff withdrew his Florida motion and filed a motion to modify in Connecticut, where he had lived for approximately one year. Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Connecticut motion. The Connecticut trial court conducted a telephone conference with the Florida court, determined that Florida had retained jurisdiction, notwithstanding the fact that the Florida Court acknowledged that neither party nor the child lived in Florida any longer, and dismissed Plaintiff’s motion to modify without an evidentiary hearing.
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal, arguing that the trial court erred in (1) failing to conclude that it had subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to § 46b-56(a) and (2) deferring to Florida and concluding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction without first conducting an evidentiary hearing. The trial court articulated that it found that Florida did not stay its proceedings or relinquish jurisdiction and that it dismissed the motion pursuant to § 46b-115a, 46b-115k, 46b-11l and 46b-115m. The Appellate Court applied plenary review to both claims as they each addressed subject matter jurisdiction.
The Appellate Court held that registering a foreign judgment does not automatically confer jurisdiction upon the trial court, which is limited by the UCCJEA, under which the trial court is required to make a determination.
The Appellate Court reviewed the history of the PKPA, UCCJA and subsequent development of the UCCJEA. Under the UCCJEA the trial court was bound to refer to § 46b-115m to modify a foreign custody determination. Based on the facts of this case, where the original home state had not relinquished jurisdiction, § 46b-115m still provided a possible path to allow Connecticut jurisdiction.
On the basis of the plain language of § 46b-115m (a), in order for Connecticut to have jurisdiction to modify Florida’s initial custody order, there must be two findings in the present case: that the Connecticut trial court has initial custody jurisdiction pursuant to § 46b-115k (a) (1) through (4) and either that Connecticut or Florida determines that neither parent nor the child presently resides in Florida, thereby ending Florida’s exclusive, continuing jurisdiction.
The Appellate Court noted that the corresponding provision of Florida’s UCCJEA statute was substantially similar, providing that either state may make the determination that neither the parties nor the child still reside in Florida. Connecticut could not make the prerequisite finding as to whether any party or child still resided in Florida without an evidentiary hearing.
The Judgment was reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on Plaintiff’s motion for modification. Judge Elgo provided a partial concurrence and partial dissent, disagreeing with the primary analysis of the majority opinion.