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

Chapter 6 – How Many Lawyers Does It Take To Litigate a Multi-State Custody Action?

“Well, God bless process servers,” I told my nephew Adam[1].  “No case gets started without them.  Probably Jennifer thought Mother’s Day would be a great time to serve you.  Sundays are good days to catch people at home.  And I assume that on Mother’s Day Sunday, Carter would have been with Jennifer.”

“But why would she even file a custody case?  Didn’t you tell me an unmarried mother already has sole custody of her child, unless and until a court says differently?”[2]

“Just when I think you don’t listen to me,” I replied fondly.  “You surprise me.  That is true. 

“But I can think of a few reasons Jennifer might have filed this case.   There’s always the chance you wouldn’t contest the issue of South Carolina being his home state, particularly if you and Jennifer have been getting along.  Didn’t you say she’s been giving you time with him lately?”

“You think her lawyer told her to do that?”

“It’s what I almost always tell people.  A quick way to get on the wrong side of a family court judge is by withholding the child from the other parent.  And it never hurts to be on good terms with your child’s parent, if at all possible.

“Anyway, she’s just made it more expensive for you to get home state jurisdiction in North Carolina.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, now you need two lawyers.  You’ll have to hire a lawyer licensed to practice in South Carolina to contest jurisdiction there; and then, once then case moves to North Carolina, you’ll need a lawyer licensed to practice in North Carolina to represent you in the custody action.”

“Couldn’t one lawyer do both?”

“Remember I told you how, before a lawyer can practice in a state, he or she must have a license issued by that state’s Bar Association? It’s not a national certification.” 

“But aren’t some lawyers licensed in more than one state?”

“Sure.  But most of us aren’t.”

“Why not?”

“It takes three fun-filled days just to take the South Carolina Bar Exam.  Before that, you spend about six weeks, after you graduate from law school, taking a Bar Review course to prepare for the exam.  Most of us only have time to do that once in our careers.”

“So did Jennifer file in South Carolina just to make the case more expensive for me?”

“No, I don’t think so.   A lawyer and a client who file a pleading stating something they ought to know isn’t true are both subject to sanctions by the Court.[3]  I can see how a lawyer might truly believe there is home state jurisdiction in South Carolina.  I just think he or she is wrong about that.”




[1] Adam, Jennifer, Carter and everyone else in this story exist only in my imagination.  No resemblance to real clients (or family members) is intended. 

[2] See SC Code 63-17-20(B)

[3] See Rule 11(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure

Sally Peace