Sunday, February 5, 2006
The Supreme Court of Montana interpreted its version of the UCCJEA so as to emphasize the priority of home state jurisdiction in custody disputes. The dispute involved Mother and children, who had lived in Arkansas from 2002 to May 2005. They had then moved to Montana for the next three months. Father filed a petition for custody in August 2005. Mother argued that Arkansas remained the children's home state, so that Montana did not have jursidiction. The District Court accepted Father's interpretation of the statute that requires that the children live in the state "for at least 6 consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding." Under their interpretation, since the children had not lived in any state for six consecutive months immediately before the custody suit was filed, there was no home state and jurisdiction should be determined by a hearing to determine whether the children had a significant connection with Montana existed and whether other factors favored Montana's assertion of initial jurisdiction. Mother filed for a writ of prohibition, which the supreme court granted.
The Supreme Court held that "home state for purposes of determining initial jurisdiction under [Montana custody statutes} is not limited to the time period of '6 consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding.' The applicable time period to determine 'home state' in such circumstances should be 'within 6 months before the commencement of the [child custody] proceeding.'...This interpretation promotes the priority of home state jurisdiction that the drafters of the UCCJEA specifically intended."
Stephens v. Fourth Judicial Dist. Court, 2006 MT 21 (January 31, 2006)
Opinion available on the web (last visited February 4, 2006 bgf)