When people think about child custody disputes, most often the concepts of legal and physical custody come to mind. While these issues are a large part of many family law disputes, parties and their attorneys must also address various jurisdictional related matters. This means that the court must have proper jurisdiction to hear a case before it may render any orders affecting the parties. In California, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the "UCCJEA") governs questions regarding a court's jurisdiction of a child custody matter. Many of these issues are complicated and require strict attention to detail. Failure to adhere to legal requirements could result in unexpected and unwelcome consequences. To avoid this, parties facing a child custody dispute are encouraged to contact a local San Diego family law attorney with experience handling such matters.
In a recent custody case, the mother sought to modify the custody arrangement concerning her 17-year-old daughter. Since 2006, the teenager had been living with her father, who had opposed the change of custody. Although the parties did not come to an agreement while attempting to mediate a custody plan, the mediator met with the parties and received voice messages from the child's therapist detailing her on-going treatment. After conducting the evaluation, the mediator recommended that the daughter change her residence (at the end of the school year) from the father's home in Oakland to the mother's in Santa Cruz.
Three days prior to the hearing on the matter, the court notified the parties of the mediator's recommendation. The father raised a few objections, namely that they only learned of the recommendation three days before the hearing, and that the mediator never actually spoke to the child's therapist, but relied on the information in the voice messages. The court postponed the hearing a few weeks but still adopted the mediator's unchanged recommendation and modified the custody order. The father appealed the decision. The court then asked the father to prepare a brief addressing the issue of whether the appeal is "moot."
The court of appeals pointed out that an appeal is moot when an event occurs which makes it impossible for the court to grant relief to the appellant. Under the UCCJEA, the courts in California have jurisdiction over child custody matters. The statute defines "child" as a person who has not yet reached 18 years of age. This means that when a child turns 18, the court relinquishes jurisdiction. The court concluded that when the parties' daughter -- who is the subject of the lower court's custody order - reached her 18th birthday, the issue on appeal became moot.