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

Chapter 5 – Home Court Advantages

“Why are you filing for custody of Carter?”  I asked my nephew Adam[1].

“What do you mean, why?  Isn’t that what you do?  Custody cases?”

“Yes.  That means I know how incredibly stressful and expensive custody disputes can be, and how they can cause a lifetime of enmity between family members.  So I think, before someone starts a custody case, he or she needs a really good reason.  What’s yours?”

“I think it would be better for Carter if I had custody of him.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, I can be home with him all the time, because I work from home.  His mother is working two jobs, and living with an unemployed wannabe actor, about whom I know next to nothing.  Carter can’t talk yet and he can’t tell me what goes on in that house.  She’s taken off out of state not once but twice with my son with no notice to me, and for a couple of months wouldn’t even let me see him except at her parents’ house.  I would never in a million years do that to her, and I sure as hell wouldn’t do that to my son.”

“OK, those are all good reasons.  Have you talked to anyone in North Carolina about finding a lawyer?”

“That’s why I’m calling.  I remember we talked about how it’s legal for me to file my case in NC[2], but we never talked about strategy.  Is it better for me to file the case in NC?”

“Yes for several reasons.  First of all, it’s going to be easier and cheaper for you to litigate a case in your hometown instead of three hours away.  Your witnesses will be people who can testify to your lifestyle, your interactions with Carter, and your ability to parent.  Those will be people who live near you, for the most part.  So more evidence will be available to bolster your case in Raleigh than in Greenville.

But most importantly - under the UCCJEA, the state that issues the initial custody order keeps jurisdiction of the case[3].”

“Why is that important?”

“Well, Carter’s nine months old.  It’s possible that before he’s eighteen this custody order may need to be modified.  If NC issues the order, and if Jennifer later wants to change the order, she will have to file in NC so long as you still live there.

“But if SC issues the order, and then two years later Jennifer decides to move to Florida and save the manatees or whatever . . . ?”

“Right.  No parent would still live in SC, so if you decided the order needed tweaking, you might find yourself trying to litigate a case 500 or even 1000 miles away.

“It’s also possible that, if Jennifer doesn’t do as the Court orders, you might have to file an action for enforcement called a Rule to Show Cause.  It will be a lot easier for you to do that in your home town.  If Jennifer knows you have to travel three hours and hire an out-of-state lawyer to file the Rule, she might treat the Order more as a general guideline than the law of the case.”

“Can you hang on a minute?  Someone’s at the door.”

“Sure,” I replied, and spent a good few minutes looking at everyone’s Mother’s Day pictures on Facebook before Adam came back to the phone.  When he did, he didn’t sound happy.

“Looks like Jennifer’s beat me to it,” he said.  “I just got served with papers in a custody case she filed in South Carolina.   What kind of process server works on Mother’s Day?”    


[1] While I have several awesome nephews, none of them are named Adam nor do any of them have children yet.  Everyone in this story is purely fictional and no resemblance to real persons or events is intended.

[2] See Chapters 2 and 3 of this blog.

[3] See SC Code §§63-15-332 and -334

Sally Peace