Of the four jurisdictional criteria mentioned in our previous post, a clear hierarchy exists. This hierarchy is a hallmark of the UCCJEA and says that in an initial custody determination priority is given to the home state jurisdiction. In other words, if the child involved in the custody dispute has a home state, only that state may make the initial custody determination, unless the home state declines to assert jurisdiction over the child custody dispute. See UCCJEA, National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Article 2, § 201, Comment, p. 24, (1998).
O.C.G.A. § 19-9-61 defines a home state as the state where the child lived with either both parents, one parent, or an individual assuming the role of a parent, for six (6) consecutive months immediately prior to filing. The six (6) month period must have been prior to the commencement of the action, and it includes periods of temporary absence by the child from his or her home state.
The second of the jurisdictional criteria, “Significant Connection,” is only reached if the home state declines to exercise jurisdiction. In such a case, a state may then have jurisdiction if it is deemed to have a significant connection with the child, meaning that there is (1) a significant connection between the child and the state and (2) substantial evidence regarding the child’s past, present or future care exists in the state.
The third of the jurisdictional criteria, “More Appropriate Forum,” is reached only if courts having home state jurisdiction or significant connection jurisdiction have declined to exercise that jurisdiction. Grounds for this include inconvenient forum or misconduct. Finally, the fourth of the jurisdictional criteria, “No Other State Jurisdiction” is reached only if no other state has exercised jurisdiction over the case or if the child is stateless.
By Connor Alexander, Law Clerk, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC