Thirteen Years Later: the Impact of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act on Connecticut Courts

JurisdictionConnecticut,United States
Publication year2021
CitationVol. 65 Pg. 452
Pages452
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 65.

65 CBJ 452. THIRTEEN YEARS LATER: THE IMPACT OF THE UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION ACT ON CONNECTICUT COURTS

THIRTEEN YEARS LATER: THE IMPACT OF THE UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION ACT ON CONNECTICUT COURTS

By ETHEL SILVER SOROKINø D KEVIN J. O'CONNORøø

The thirteenth anniversary of Connecticut's adoption of the Uniform Child Custody jurisdiction Act ("UCCJA" or "Act") merits an examination of how the jurisdictional issues concerning custody and visitation riots have fared in our increasingly mobile society.(fn1) In a time when parents relocate to distant states for various reasons such as more favorable family, personal, and employment situations, the effect of such moves on the living arrangement of a child in the custody of, or in residence with, one of the parents often results in a court action to modify a custody decree. Before a Connecticut court will address a custody issue,(fn2) it must first determine whether it has jurisdiction of the matter under the UCCJA.(fn3) Only if a Connecticut Superior Court determines that it has jurisdiction under § 46b-93, and that the notice has been served on the parties involved in accordance with § 46b-94 or § 46b-95, can it then address issues concerning custody and visitation rights.

This article will briefly examine the purposes behind the enactment of the UCCJA, as well as how the Act functions in Connecticut. The article will then examine the body of Connecticut case law interpreting the UCCJA, including some of the procedural issues in the application of the Act to custody situations under preexisting law. An examination of the case law reveals how Connecticut courts make jurisdictional decisions with the stated purposes of the Act in mind.

I. THE PURPOSES OF THE UCCJA

All fifty states have adopted the UCCJA,(fn4) a result of nationwide concern about greater protection of children involved in custody disputes and because of jurisdictional conflicts. The reasons the Connecticut Legislature adopted the Act are found in the statutory text:

The general purposes of this chapter are to: (1) Avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict with courts of other states in matters of child custody which have in the past resulted in the shifting of children from state to state with harmful effects on their well-being; (2) promote cooperation with the courts of other states to the end that a custody decree is rendered in a state which can best decide the case in the interest of the child; (3) assure that litigation ... take place ordinarily in the state with which the child and his family have the closest connection and where significant evidence concerning his care, protection, training and personal relationships is most readily available ... (4) discourage continuing controversies over child custody in the interest of greater stability of home environment and of secure family relationships ... (5) deter abductions ... of children undertaken to obtain custody awards; (6) avoid relitigation of custody decisions of other states in this state ... (7) facilitate the enforcement of custody decrees of other states; (8) promote and expand the exchange of information between the courts of this state and those of other states concerned with the same child ....(fn5)

These legislative policies are fundamental to every jurisdictional decision under the UCCJA,(fn6) and are incorporated by reference into pre-existing custody law.(fn7)

II. HOW THE UCCJA OPERATES

Under § 46b-93 of the UCCJA, a Connecticut court has jurisdiction to make a child custody determination if: (1) Connecticut is the "home state"(fn8) of the child; (2) it is in the best interests of the child' that the court decide the matter; (3) the child is physically


19911 BOOK REVIEWS 485

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Of the Stamford Bar. 1991) THE UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION ACT 4W 46b-98 does not require, however, a state to decline to exercise its jurisdiction over the matter because of such conduct." Thus, even where evidence of reprehensible conduct exists, the controlling factor in the determination of jurisdiction is the best interests of the child. 111. CONNEcricuT CASE LAW INTERPRETING THE UCCJA

The first opportunity for our state's high court to address the UCCJA presented itself three years after the Act's adoption. In Agnello v. Becker, " a New Jersey couple separated and their child remained with the father in New Jersey until the mother moved to Connecticut, taking the child with her. The father promptly petitioned a New Jersey court, which, after finding that it had jurisdiction under the UCCJA, awarded custody of the child to him. The mother, however, refused to return the child and the father brought an action in Connecticut seeking enforcement of the New Jersey decree. Finding that it would be in the best interests of the child to determine custody in Connecticut, the Connecticut Superior Court referred the matter to a Connecticut Family Relations Officer.

On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed. It held erroneous the Superior Court's decision that the best interests of the child required custody to be determined in Connecticut. The Court remarked that the main objective of § 46b-93 is to protect a parent whose spouse or ex-spouse has moved the child outside of the state, and that if the stay-at-home parent acts quickly, he or she may start proceedings in his or her own state." The child had spent her entire life in New Jersey and the father had brought the custody suit within one month of her removal by the mother. Further, the fact that the child had been abducted and brought to Connecticut did not create a "significant connection" to satisfy the "best interests" test of § 46b93. 16 The Court's finding that the Connecticut trial court should have declined jurisdiction under the UCCJA was buttressed by virtually every test under that chapter: the prompt action of the father, the prior residency in New Jersey, the prior pendency of a New Jersey proceeding, " the subsequent Connecticut action, the mother's conduct in removing the child, and the fact that all of the contacts of the child were with New Jersey. Thus, the court concluded that 13 A ello v. Becker, 184 Conn. 421,433, 440A.2d 172,178 (1981).

141

151d. at 428.

"Id. at 430.

17Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-96(a) prohibits Connecticut courts from exercising jurisdiction over a custody proceeding when a similar proceeding involving the child is pending in another state. BOOK REVIEWS 483

judicial review. Yet at the same time, he recognized the need for balance and "serious restraint."

Snowiss' clear exposition of the development of the federal judicial branch will be much read and appreciated. It certainly will be a fine supplement to constitutional law classes, but practitioners who want to comprehend the current controversies which suround the Court will find the book most helpful as well. The author's special contribution will be in separating out the various eras of judicial review and her challenge to the Court to use wisely this vast power. Henry S. Cohn

THE OF CouNsm AGREEmENT, HARoLDG.WREN ANDBEvEmy J. GLASCOCK, 1991, Senior Lawyer's Division, American Bar Association, pp. 97., $49.95.

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