A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision resolves a two-year-long jurisdictional dispute between spouses regarding whether, under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), their custody case should proceed in Michigan or Georgia. The parties had undisputedly been living in the Mid-West (the husband traveled between Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana for work) until the wife decided not to return from Georgia with the children after a family vacation. She filed a complaint for custody in Georgia, and subsequently, the husband filed a divorce complaint in Michigan.
In February 2016, the Michigan trial court dismissed the custody case in Michigan, finding that under the UCCJEA jurisdiction was proper in Georgia because the Georgia case had been filed first.
On October 10, 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed. Bowman v Bowman, Docket No. 331870. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred because it should have followed the procedure stated in MCL 722.1206 for a child-custody proceeding commenced when a child-custody proceeding has already been commenced in a court of another state with jurisdiction in substantial conformity with the UCCJEA. Specifically, MCL 722.1206 requires the court to communicate with the court of the other state, and that court of the other state may determine whether it will exercise jurisdiction.
On remand the Michigan trial court communicated with the Georgia trial court, and the trial courts decided that Georgia would exercise jurisdiction. However, the husband appealed the Georgia trial court’s exercise of jurisdiction to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, the Michigan trial court had to determine whether the divorce case could remain in Michigan without the custody portion of the divorce case. The trial court simply dismissed the case because the custody case was to be in Georgia, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court had to consider whether the husband satisfied the residency requirements for a divorce. Bowman v Bowman, Docket No. 339702.
Most recently, on March 6, 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a decision holding that the Georgia trial court did not have jurisdiction. Bowman v Bowman, Case No. A17A2082. The Georgia Court of Appeals noted that at the time the wife filed the custody petition, the only connections between the children and Georgia were that one of the children was born there, they had grandparents and other family there, and they had visited those grandparents in Georgia in the past. These were not significant connections sufficient to satisfy the UCCJEA and Georgia could not exercise jurisdiction because significant connections existed between the children and Michigan as determined by the Michigan trial court. Thus, the Georgia Court of Appeals remanded the case for dismissal.
After two years, and three appellate decisions in two separate states, the courts have finally come to the conclusion that a spouse may not simply file a custody petition in another state while visiting for a vacation.