Pursuant to statute, in a Florida divorce proceeding, courts have the authority to, at any time, order either or both parents to pay support to the other parent. Further, the courts have the authority to approve, grant or modify a parenting plan, which sets forth a timesharing schedule. A court’s power to make such decisions is known as jurisdiction, and such jurisdiction is inherent in a divorce proceeding brought before the proper tribunal.
Jurisdiction over such issues outside of a divorce proceeding, however, can be much more complex. By way of example, in a paternity proceeding where each parent resides in a different state, the first question often asked is what court has jurisdiction to hear the matter or, stated differently, the authority to make decisions related to the paternity proceeding, such as child support and child custody.
These legal questions require an understanding of the various statutes that govern jurisdiction in Florida. For instance, Florida has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) in order to avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict among courts of other states in matters of child custody. Pursuant to the UCCJEA, therefore, a Florida court has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination – such as in the paternity case example mentioned above – only if:
(a) Florida is the “home state” of child (a defined term in the Florida Statutes) on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within 6 months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from Florida, but a parent continues to live in Florida; or
(b) A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under paragraph (a), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the grounds that Florida is the more appropriate forum, and:
1. The child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent, have a significant connection with Florida other than mere physical presence; and
2. Substantial evidence is available in Florida concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or
(c) All courts having jurisdiction under paragraph (a) and paragraph (b) have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the grounds that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child; or
(d) No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in paragraph (a), paragraph (b), or paragraph (c).
There can be several, often complicated, legal arguments made by each party when jurisdiction in a child custody case is contested, i.e., when each party is asserting that his or her state has jurisdiction to determine child custody in their proceeding. For instance, parents may argue over which state is the minor child’s “home state” as defined by statute, or whether Florida has any significant connections with the minor child.
Similarly, child support, which is governed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, can pose challenging jurisdictional questions as well. It is important to speak with an attorney about these issues immediately before filing a proceeding as they are crucial to ensuring that a court of proper jurisdiction will be making the child custody and support determinations in your matter.© Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, PA, 2013. All rights reserved.