Illinois Appellate Court Holds that Under the UCCJEA, the law of the Home State of the Minor Child Shall Apply to Custody Issues

many-kids-run-with-kiteWe have seen many cases where a parent removes a child to another state and attempts to litigate custody issues in the other state.  Courts have often struggled with determining which State should hear the custody issues, as well as which state law should apply.  On December 23, 2014, the Fifth District Appellate Court handed down their decision in Crouch v. Smick, 2014 IL App (5th) 140382 holding that Illinois law applies to custody proceedings when Illinois is the child’s home state pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”).

In Crouch, the wife had moved with her children to California where she remarried and subsequently attempted to terminate the father’s parental rights.  The California courts declined to hear the case stating that Illinois had jurisdiction over the custody proceedings pursuant to the UCCJEA.  Madison County, Illinois, then heard the issue of whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated, and applying California law, terminated the father’s parental rights.  The father appealed said decision.

The Fifth District reversed the trial court’s decision and held that Illinois, and not California law, should have been applied to the issue of whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated, and reversed and remanded the case back to Madison County for further proceedings.

The Crouch case is notable in that it goes through the history of the UCCJEA and its purpose.  In particular, the Court notes that the UCCJEA was enacted primarily to prevent parents from “forum shopping” by simply taking the child to another state in order to get a more favorable custody arrangement.   As a result, the UCCJEA gave continuing and exclusive jurisdiction to the home state–the state that made the initial custody determination.  The Court analyzed similar cases from the Utah Supreme Court wherein the Court used the “most significant relationship” test to determine the home state, which is similar to Illinois’ “most significant contacts” test.  In utilizing this test, the Court determined that Illinois was the home state of the minor child, and thus Illinois law should have been applied to the underlying issues.

As a result, trial courts must determine which State had the most significant contacts with the minor child, and that State will then not only hear the custody issues, but will also apply Illinois law to the underlying issues in the case.

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