Unmarried Parents With a Multi-State Custody Dispute - What Could Go Wrong?

Chapter 3 – When Is a Temporary Absence No Longer Temporary?

“Do you have time to talk about what ‘temporary absence’ means?”  My nephew Adam[1] asked.

“You waited kind of late in the day to call.  I have a Mardi Gras party to get to.”

“I thought Episcopalians had pancakes for Shrove Tuesday tonight.”

“Have you ever tried to do a wine and pancake pairing?”

“Hm.  No.”

“But let’s talk about temporary absences under the UCCJEA[2], which don’t count towards the six months required for a state to count as a child’s ‘home state.’ The drafters included this term so people could take a child out of state to visit family or take a vacation without worrying that by doing so they’d change the home state of the child.”

“Well, Jennifer told me she was taking Carter to ‘visit’ family.  But then she decided she needed her extended family more than she needed to come back home with our son.”

“Intent is one factor courts use to determine whether an absence was permanent or temporary. If you have text messages or Facebook posts or anything Jennifer wrote around the time she left or shortly before, it could help you establish her original intent.

Sometimes intent can change, though – as may have happened in this case.”

“May have?  You think Jennifer lied to me and planned all along not to come home after Christmas?”

“No.  She’s my great-nephew’s mother and I’m not saying anything of the kind.  But I am saying that if a judge gets the idea one parent has tried to pull a fast one on the other parent - or on the Court - it will come back to bite him or her big time.

Courts also look at the duration of the absence.  In your case, Jennifer left for a Christmas visit, and here it is mid-February.  A judge might wonder why you’re only now trying to do something about this.”

“I guess I kept hoping Jennifer would change her mind.  I love my family and I want them both to come back home.”

“But when Jennifer said you could only see Carter at her parents’ house under direct supervision?”

“Yeah, that kind of clued me in that she didn’t intend to come back and didn’t want to chance my taking Carter home.  But in a way, it also made me afraid to file anything with the court.  What if that caused her to not allow me to see him at all?”

“If a judge ordered her to allow you some parenting time, she’d have to do it or be risk being held in contempt of court.”

“I know, but it could take weeks to get that order, right?  And even longer to enforce it, if I had to do that.  I just couldn’t face the idea of not seeing my son for that long.”

“I understand you’re scared.  But Carter needs both his parents to be a meaningful part of his life, and it looks like you’re going to have to take some action to make that happen.  And if you intend to take action in North Carolina, you need to do it sooner rather than later.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’ve got a King Cake getting stale, nephew.  Call me tomorrow and we’ll talk about why it’s a good idea to give up procrastination for Lent.”

- to be continued






[1] Adam, Jennifer and everyone else in this story are purely fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely unintentional.

[2] Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act.  See Chapter 2 for details.

Sally Peace