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Baby Veronica Adoption Case Decided By U.S. Supreme Court

I have previously written about the adoption case of Baby Veronica.  In this case, a South Carolina court ordered a child to be taken from her prospective adoptive parents’ home and to be placed in her biological father’s home even though the father had abandoned the child and consented to the adoption.  The court’s logic was that, because the child’s father was a member of the Cherokee tribe – and so Baby Veronica was a member of the Cherokee tribe – the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) applied.  Accordingly, the South Carolina trial court concluded, the prospective adoptive parents failed to prove that the adoption (i) was both in the child’s best interests and (ii) did not infringe on the rights of the Indian tribe.  The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

I wrote in July 2012 that the South Carolina Supreme Court should not have applied the ICWA because the father had abandoned the child, voluntarily waived his parental rights, and consented to the adoption.  I also wrote that the case likely would have been decided differently by Florida courts.

Well, the prospective adoptive parents appealed this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, and, as it turns out, the majority opinion agrees with me.

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Is Florida the Correct State for My Child Custody Issue?

Under chapter 61, Florida Statutes, a Florida court generally has jurisdiction for a new custody case (such as (i) divorce involving children’s issues/parenting plan, (ii) paternity/ establishment of time-sharing schedule, or (iii) temporary or concurrent custody of a child by a relative) only if one of the following is true:

  • The child has lived in Florida for at least six months immediately prior to the case being filed (even if the child is or has been temporarily absent from Florida);
  • The child has moved from Florida within the past six months, but prior to that lived in Florida for at least six months; or
  • No other state or country has jurisdiction over the child (or the court of the child’s home state or country has declined jurisdiction) and the child has significant connections to Florida.

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Hillsborough County – New Child Custody Proceedings Administrative Order

Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr., of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County) recently entered a new administrative order that pertains to child custody proceedings.  Below is a summary of AO S-2011-014:

  1. For Chapter 751 Proceedings (Temporary Custody of Minor Children by Extended Family):
    1. Uncontested and Contested Proceedings:  Petitions for temporary custody of a minor child by an extended family member (i.e., grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc.) must be written and signed under oath, and filed with the clerk of the court.  The case will be assigned to the Family Law/Domestic Relations Division.  An executed Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement (“UCCJEA”) Affidavit must be included with the petition.  If the petition is being filed with the parents’ permission, written, signed, and notarized consents must be provided, unless the parents provide their consents in open court.  If a petitioner is alleging that a parent has abandoned a child, the petitioner must have evidence of abandonment.
    2. Pending Dependency Proceedings:  If a dependency case is pending when a petition for temporary custody has been filed, the Family Law judge may transfer the petition to the Juvenile Dependency Division. Read more

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (known as the “UCCJEA”) is the body of law that provides Florida courts with authority to rule on issues of child custody.  In virtually every family law proceeding that involves child custody–including divorce, paternity, and relocation–each party is required to file an affidavit that contains certain information and demonstrates to the court that it has jurisdiction over the child. This UCCJEA affidavit must include the following information:

  • The current address of the child;
  • Each address at which the child has lived during the past five years;

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Section 61.531, Florida Statutes

Expedited enforcement of child custody determination.—

(1)A petition under ss. 61.524-61.540 must be verified. Certified copies of all orders sought to be enforced and of any order confirming registration must be attached to the petition. A copy of a certified copy of an order may be attached instead of the original.

(2)A petition for enforcement of a child custody determination must state:

(a)Whether the court that issued the determination identified the jurisdictional basis it relied upon in exercising jurisdiction and, if so, specify the basis;

(b)Whether the determination for which enforcement is sought has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court whose decision must be enforced under this part and, if so, identify the court, the case number, and the nature of the proceeding;

(c)Whether any proceeding has been commenced that could affect the current proceeding, including proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders, termination of parental rights, and adoptions and, if so, identify the court, the case number, and the nature of the proceeding;

(d)The present physical address of the child and the respondent, if known;

(e)Whether relief in addition to the immediate physical custody of the child and attorney’s fees is sought, including a request for assistance from law enforcement officers and, if so, the relief sought; and

(f)If the child custody determination has been registered and confirmed under s. 61.528, the date and place of registration.

(3)Upon the filing of a petition, the court shall issue an order directing the respondent to appear in person with or without the child at a hearing and may enter any order necessary to ensure the safety of the parties and the child. The hearing must be held on the next judicial day after service of the order unless that date is impossible. In that event, the court shall hold the hearing on the first judicial day possible. The court may extend the date of the hearing at the request of the petitioner.

(4)An order issued under subsection (3) must state the time and place of the hearing and advise the respondent that at the hearing the court will order that the petitioner may take immediate physical custody of the child and the payment of fees, costs, and expenses under s. 61.535 and may schedule a hearing to determine whether further relief is appropriate, unless the respondent appears and establishes that:

(a)The child custody determination has not been registered and confirmed under s. 61.528 and that:

1.The issuing court did not have jurisdiction under ss. 61.514-61.523;

2.The child custody determination for which enforcement is sought has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court of a state having jurisdiction to do so under ss. 61.514-61.523; or

3.The respondent was entitled to notice, but notice was not given in accordance with the standards of s. 61.509 in the proceedings before the court that issued the order for which enforcement is sought; or

(b)The child custody determination for which enforcement is sought was registered and confirmed under s. 61.528, but has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court of a state having jurisdiction to do so under ss. 61.514-61.523.

History.—s. 5, ch. 2002-65.

Section 61.522, Florida Statutes

Information to be submitted to the court.—

(1)Subject to Florida law providing for the confidentiality of procedures, addresses, and other identifying information in a child custody proceeding, each party, in its first pleading or in an attached affidavit, shall give information, if reasonably ascertainable, under oath as to the child’s present address or whereabouts, the places where the child has lived during the last 5 years, and the names and present addresses of the persons with whom the child has lived during that period. The pleading or affidavit must state whether the party:

(a)Has participated, as a party or witness or in any other capacity, in any other proceeding concerning the custody of or visitation with the child and, if so, identify the court, the case number, and the date of the child custody determination, if any;

(b)Knows of any proceeding that could affect the current proceeding, including proceedings for enforcement and proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders, termination of parental rights, and adoptions and, if so, identify the court, the case number, and the nature of the proceeding; and

(c)Knows the names and addresses of any person not a party to the proceeding who has physical custody of the child or claims rights of legal custody or physical custody of, or visitation with, the child and, if so, the names and addresses of those persons.

(2)If the information required by subsection (1) is not furnished, the court, upon motion of a party or its own motion, may stay the proceeding until the information is furnished.

(3)If the declaration as to any of the items described in paragraphs (1)(a)-(c) is in the affirmative, the declarant shall give additional information under oath as required by the court. The court may examine the parties under oath as to details of the information furnished and other matters pertinent to the court’s jurisdiction and the disposition of the case.

(4)Each party has a continuing duty to inform the court of any proceeding in this or any other state which could affect the current proceeding.

History.—s. 5, ch. 2002-65.

Section 61.503, Florida Statutes

Definitions.—As used in this part, the term:

(1)“Abandoned” means left without provision for reasonable and necessary care or supervision.

(2)“Child” means an individual who has not attained 18 years of age.

(3)“Child custody determination” means a judgment, decree, or other order of a court providing for the legal custody, physical custody, residential care, or visitation with respect to a child. The term includes a permanent, temporary, initial, and modification order. The term does not include an order relating to child support or other monetary obligation of an individual.

(4)“Child custody proceeding” means a proceeding in which legal custody, physical custody, residential care, or visitation with respect to a child is an issue. The term includes a proceeding for divorce, separation, neglect, abuse, dependency, guardianship, paternity, termination of parental rights, and protection from domestic violence, in which the issue may appear. The term does not include a proceeding involving juvenile delinquency, contractual emancipation, or enforcement under ss. 61.524-61.540.

(5)“Commencement” means the filing of the first pleading in a proceeding.

(6)“Court” means an entity authorized under the laws of a state to establish, enforce, or modify a child custody determination.

(7)“Home state” means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least 6 consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child younger than 6 months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period.

(8)“Initial determination” means the first child custody determination concerning a particular child.

(9)“Issuing court” means the court that makes a child custody determination for which enforcement is sought under this part.

(10)“Issuing state” means the state in which a child custody determination is made.

(11)“Modification” means a child custody determination that changes, replaces, supersedes, or is otherwise made after a previous determination concerning the same child, regardless of whether it is made by the court that made the previous determination.

(12)“Person” means an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, limited liability company, association, joint venture, or government; governmental subdivision, agency, instrumentality, or public corporation; or any other legal or commercial entity.

(13)“Person acting as a parent” means a person, other than a parent, who:

(a)Has physical custody of the child or has had physical custody for a period of 6 consecutive months, including any temporary absence, within 1 year immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding; and

(b)Has been awarded a child-custody determination by a court or claims a right to a child-custody determination under the laws of this state.

(14)“Physical custody” means the physical care and supervision of a child.

(15)“State” means a state of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, or any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

(16)“Tribe” means an Indian tribe, or band, or Alaskan Native village that is recognized by federal law or formally acknowledged by a state.

(17)“Warrant” means an order issued by a court authorizing law enforcement officers to take physical custody of a child.

History.—s. 5, ch. 2002-65.