Swanson v. Perez-Swanson, 206 Conn. App. 266 (2021) (UCCJEA & Inconvenient Forum)
Officially released July 27, 2021
In Short: So long as any party or child remain in Connecticut, Connecticut retains continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the child under the UCCJEA until (1) Connecticut determines that it is no longer the home state, and (2) the child lacks a significant relationship to any party remaining in Connecticut and (3) substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships is no longer available in Connecticut.
The parties were divorced in 2016 by separation agreement which provided joint legal custody and primary physical custody of the three children to Husband. In 2018, the parties entered into an agreement permitting Husband to relocate to North Carolina with the children. The parties entered into a further post-judgment agreement in 2019 stating that Connecticut or North Carolina would have jurisdiction to decide any issues relating to custody and/or visitation.
Husband registered the Connecticut Judgment in North Carolina in 2019. Thereafter, Wife filed a motion for modification of custody in Connecticut. Husband filed a motion to dismiss Wife’s motion for modification, alleging that North Carolina was the children’s home state and, therefore, Connecticut should decline to exercise jurisdiction because it was no longer a convenient forum. Wife filed an objection asserting that Connecticut has continuing exclusive jurisdiction under the UCCJEA because she still resides in Connecticut, has a significant relationship with the children, and substantial evidence is available in Connecticut.
Judge Danaher issued a written order granting Husband’s motion to dismiss, noting that the children had resided with Husband in North Carolina for more than six months, the judgment had been registered there, and North Carolina is the “home state” as defined by the UCCJEA.
Wife appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by concluding that it lacked continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify custody solely on the ground that North Carolina is the home state. Wife argued that the trial court failed to consider whether the children still had a significant relationship with her and whether there was still substantial evidence available in Connecticut.
The Appellate Court applied the plenary standard of review to the issue of subject matter jurisdiction. Under the UCCJEA:
“[A] court of this state which has made a child custody determination … has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over the determination until: (1) A court of this state or a court of another state determines that the child, the child’s parents and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in this state; or (2) a court of this state determines that (A) this state is not the home state of the child, (B) a parent or a person acting as a parent continues to reside in this state but the child no longer has a significant relationship with such parent or person, and (C) substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.” (emphasis added).”
Although the children had resided in North Carolina for more than six months with Husband and North Carolina was the home state under the UCCJEA, that was not sufficient to terminate Connecticut’s continuing exclusive jurisdiction. So long as any party or the children remain in Connecticut, Connecticut retains jurisdiction until (1) Connecticut determines that it is no longer the home state under the UCCJEA, and (2) the children lack a significant relationship to any party remaining in Connecticut and (3) substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships is no longer available in Connecticut. All three factors must be met, and the Appellate Court held that the trial court had made its decision solely on the first factor without making a finding as to the latter two factors.
The judgment was reversed and remanded.