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When adults can’t agree on the custody of a child they go to court, but which court? Presumably one would go to a court in the state where the child is living, probably in the county where the child is living.  However, what happens when a child has moved between states?  What happens in a fight between prospective adoptive parents in one state and a biological parent in another?

Alabama and Texas vying for jurisdiction.

A dispute between parents trying to adopt and a bio-parent trying to keep custody spilled over state lines in B.V. v. J.M. The child in B.V. was born in Texas. It lived there for a handful of weeks with the adoptive parents, them moved with them to Alabama.

Both the adoptive parents and the bio-parent filed custody actions. The adoptive parents filed in Alabama. The bio-parent filed in Texas. After the adoptive parents won an early victory in their court of choice, the bio-parent appealed.

The “home state” has jurisdiction.

Contests between states over jurisdiction in child custody disputes is quite common. The state where the child is living has a strong interest in determining what should happen. However, the state where the child was living also has a strong interest. Because these fights are frequent, there are several federal laws that govern.

In this case the Paternal Kidnapping Prevention Act was invoked to determine which state could determine custody. That act, like the others relies on a determination of which state is the child’s “home state.” The adoptive parents and the bio-parent disagreed over which was the home state.

Texas is the home state.

Usually, the state where the child last lived for six months is the home state. That rule doesn’t work for children under six months old. For infants, the rule is typically where the child lived from birth.

In B.V., the child was born in Texas. It then lived there for several weeks with the adoptive parents. Only later did the child live in Alabama. By the time custody suits were, the child was less than two months old. Therefore, Texas is the child’s home state.

Texas parent won the race to the courthouse.

Not only was Texas the home state, but the case there was the first one filed. Though there was a question about whether the adoptive parents had been properly served, it did not change the outcome. The Alabama case was filed about a week after the one in Texas.

The Paternal Kidnapping Prevention Act bars states from deciding custody disputes where the home state has already started a case.  Because the Texas case was filed first and because it was the home state, Alabama lacked jurisdiction. The court of civil appeals ordered the case be dismissed.

Where to learn more about interstate custody disputes: