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T.D. v. M.H.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 27, 2019

T.D. Appellant
v.
M.H. Appellee

          Appeal from the Order Entered March 15, 2019 In the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County Civil Division at No(s): CV-2017-008046

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J.E., STABILE, J., and STEVENS [*] , P.J.E.

          OPINION

          GANTMAN, P.J.E.

         Appellant, T.D. ("Mother"), appeals from the order entered in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which granted the petition of Appellee, M.H. ("Father"), to transfer jurisdiction of this custody action to Delaware State court. We reverse.

         The relevant facts and procedural history of this case are as follows. Mother and Father are the biological parents of S.H., a minor ("Child"). Father has resided in Delaware since 1998. Mother moved to Delaware in 2006. Child was born in 2011, and has resided with Mother since birth. Mother moved to Pennsylvania in 2014, and then moved back to Delaware on September 1, 2017. That same day, Mother attempted to file a custody complaint in Delaware State court, which declined to accept the pleading, because Child and Mother had not resided in Delaware within the previous six months. Mother filed a custody complaint in Pennsylvania, in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, on September 19, 2017. The Delaware County Court of Common Pleas entered a temporary custody order on October 27, 2017, awarding Mother primary physical custody of Child and awarding Father partial physical custody of Child every other weekend. On March 27, 2018, Father filed in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas a petition to transfer jurisdiction of the custody action to the state of Delaware, pursuant to Section 5422(a) of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"), 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5401-5482. On April 14, 2018, Mother moved with Child from the state of Delaware to Chester, Pennsylvania.

         On August 8, 2018, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas granted Father's petition and transferred jurisdiction to the state of Delaware. Mother timely filed a motion for reconsideration on August 27, 2018, which the court granted on August 28, 2018. On August 30, 2018, Father filed a petition to modify custody in Delaware State court; the Delaware State court subsequently stayed Father's petition at Mother's request, pending resolution of the jurisdictional dispute in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

         On January 7, 2019, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas conducted a hearing on Mother's reconsideration motion with testimony from Father, Child's paternal grandmother, and Mother. On March 15, 2019, the Pennsylvania court again granted Father's petition and transferred jurisdiction to Delaware State court. In its March 2019 opinion, the trial court purportedly relied upon this Court's decision in S.K.C. v. J.L.C., 94 A.3d 402 (Pa.Super. 2014) to examine the parties' and Child's circumstances under Section 5422 as of the date Father filed his petition to transfer jurisdiction, March 27, 2018. The trial court determined that, as of March 27, 2018, the parties and Child had lived in Delaware State for over six months and, as of that date, Child had more significant connections with Delaware than Pennsylvania.

         On April 12, 2019, Mother timely filed a notice of appeal and a contemporaneous concise statement of errors complained of on appeal per Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i).

         Mother raises two issues for our review:

WHETHER THE PENNSYLVANIA TRIAL COURT ERRED AS A MATTER OF LAW IN DETERMINING THAT IT LACKED SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION OVER THE INSTANT CUSTODY MATTER BECAUSE ITS DETERMINATION UNDER 23 PA.C.S.A. § 5422 DID NOT RELY UPON THE FACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES AS THEY EXISTED WHEN THE
MODIFICATION PETITION WAS FILED, BUT INSTEAD RELIED UPON FACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES AT THE TIME THE MOTION TO TRANSFER JURISDICTION WAS FILED?
IF THE PENNSYLVANIA TRIAL COURT IN FACT LACKED JURISDICTION OVER THE INSTANT CUSTODY MATTER AS OF THE TIME THE MOTION TO TRANSFER JURISDICTION WAS FILED, DID IT THEREFORE LACK THE POWER TO DIRECT THE PARTIES TO PURSUE ALL FUTURE LITIGATION IN THE CUSTODY MATTER IN THE STATE OF DELAWARE?

(Mother's Brief at 4).

         In her issues combined, Mother argues the trial court incorrectly viewed the parties' and Child's circumstances as of March 27, 2018, the date Father filed in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas a petition to transfer jurisdiction, to determine whether the court retained exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over this custody action under Section 5422. Mother asserts, pursuant to S.K.C., supra, the trial court should have examined the factual circumstances as they existed when Father filed a petition to modify jurisdiction in Delaware State court, August 30, 2018. Mother submits, as of August 30, 2018, she and Child resided in Pennsylvania and Child had numerous significant connections to Pennsylvania. Mother also argues that if the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas no longer had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over this custody dispute as of March 27, 2018, the date Father filed his petition to transfer jurisdiction, then the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas lacked jurisdiction to rule on Father's transfer petition. Mother concludes this Court should reverse the order of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, transferring jurisdiction to the state of Delaware, and dismiss Father's petition to transfer as moot. We agree relief is due.

         "The purpose of the UCCJEA is to avoid jurisdictional competition, promote cooperation between courts, deter the abduction of children, avoid relitigating custody decisions of other states, and facilitate the enforcement of custody orders of other states." A.L.-S. v. B.S., 117 A.3d 352, 356 (Pa.Super. 2015). "One of the main purposes of the UCCJEA was to clarify the exclusive, continuing jurisdiction for the state that entered the child custody decree." Rennie v. Rosenthol, 995 A.2d 1217, 1220 (Pa.Super. 2010). The UCCJEA "is designed to eliminate a rush to the courthouse to determine jurisdiction." Bouzos-Reilly v. Reilly, 980 A.2d 643, 645 (Pa.Super. 2009).

         Section 5402 of the UCCJEA defines several terms relevant to a discussion of the operative statutory provisions as follows:

§ 5402. Definitions
* * *
"Child custody proceeding." A proceeding in which legal custody, physical custody 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 ...

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