custody - jurisdiction - home state - finding
Bouzos-Reilly v. Reilly - Superior Court - August 27, 2009
Because the trial judge failed to conduct a full hearing with relevant witnesses to elicit testimony regarding the underlying jurisdictional issue, there was insufficient evidence on the record to support the trial court’s findings. Thus, we reverse.
We recognize that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), 23 Pa.C.S. §5401, et seq., is designed to eliminate a rush to the courthouse to determine jurisdiction. However, the UCCJEA is dependent on a proper finding that there is a home state. The judge in New York and the judge in Pennsylvania communicated by telephone, which is certainly proper. However, the determination of a home state should not be based on which judge speaks first to claim home state status. In this case, the New York court erred, and merely because that judge spoke first does not mean the Pennsylvania judge should automatically acquiesce to that determination.
A court's decision to exercise or decline jurisdiction is subject to an abuse of discretion standard of review and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Under Pennsylvania state law, an abuse of discretion occurs when the court has overridden or misapplied the law, when its judgment is manifestly unreasonable, or when there is insufficient evidence of record to support the court's findings. An abuse of discretion requires clear and convincing evidence that the trial court misapplied the law or failed to follow proper legal procedures. Billhime v. Billhime, 952 A.2d 1174, 1176 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citation omitted).