Termination of Custody Jurisdiction
Once New Jersey Courts have made the initial determination of custody, New Jersey is considered to have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. This means that New Jersey - and only New Jersey - has the right to make custody determinations for that child or those children. The New Jersey Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement (NJUCCJEA) lays out the requirements for acquiring jurisdiction over a custody matter. Of course, there is always the possibility that New Jersey could lose jurisdiction over the children, depending on the specific facts and circumstances. Some factors that courts will use in deciding whether or not New Jersey will be able to retain jurisdiction over the matter are as follows:
- A New Jersey court determines that neither the child, the child and at least one parent, nor the child and someone who is acting as a parent have any compelling contact or relationship with New Jersey. Additionally, the court must find that significant evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships is unavailable within the state New Jersey.
- A New Jersey Court or the court of another state determines that neither the child, nor a parent, nor any surrogate parent (or someone who is acting in the role of a parent) currently live in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-66; or
- New Jersey is found to be an inconvenient forum, meaning that a New Jersey Court does have jurisdiction but declines to exercise that jurisdiction because the court of another state is more appropriate to exercise jurisdiction over a particular case considering relevant factors. Some circumstances that would render a New Jersey court inconvenient might include:
- Whether there have been any instances of domestic violence, where it occurred, and if it happens again, which state could be best situated to address the protection of the parties and the child;
- The amount of time the child has lived out of state;
- The economic circumstances and financial abilities of the parties;
- Any agreement between the parties about state jurisdiction, such as a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement;
- The nature and location of evidence that will be relied upon during the case, including the child’s testimony, such as where most evidence will likely be found.
- Each court’s ability to make a determination on the issue quickly and effectively, as well as the procedures required to present relevant evidence;
- The familiarity that each court has concerning the facts, issues and parties involved in the underlying case. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-71a & b.
The case of Griffith v. Tressel is instructive when it comes to the interpretation of the above statutes. The court made it abundantly clear that as long as either the ‘compelling contact or relationship’ to the state test or the ‘significant evidence’ test is satisfied, there is not necessarily a requirement to meet both basis in order for New Jersey to retain jurisdiction. Only if neither of these prongs is satisfied will New Jersey be divested of custody jurisdiction. Griffith v. Tressel, 392 N.J. Super. 128, 142-3 (App. Div. 2007).
Though a determination that New Jersey is an inconvenient forum can divest it of jurisdiction, the principle is separate and distinct from the application of the significant connection and substantial evidence standards. If the New Jersey court determines that New Jersey is an inconvenient forum for a custody suit, it stays the proceeding in New Jersey conditioned upon the action being promptly commenced in another, more appropriate state. This necessarily requires there to be a court of another state willing to take jurisdiction of the matter. N.J.S.A. 2A:34:71c.
What is important to remember is that the laws have been set up to prevent jurisdiction in custody matters in multiple states at the same time. This, in turn, avoids multiple custody orders from multiple jurisdictions on the same case. Therefore, to bring a custody action in a state other than New Jersey, it is always necessary to terminate New Jersey’s continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the case under the principles set forth above.
If you need to discuss terminating custody jurisdiction in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free comprehensive in office consultation at 201-845-7400.