Melgar v. Campo – 7/26/2007

July 31, 2007

Arizona Appeals Court Division One Holds That an Arizona Court May Not Modify an Out-Of-State Child Custody Order Unless the Out-Of-State Court First Relinquishes Its Exclusive Continuing Jurisdiction.

Mr. Melgar and Ms. Campo had a child in 2003. The family lived together in North Carolina until 2004 when Ms. Campo left the state with the child and cut off all contact with Mr. Melgar. Mr. Melgar initiated a paternity suit in North Carolina, and the North Carolina court ultimately awarded custody of the minor child to Mr. Melgar. Mr. Melgar then tracked Ms. Campo and the child to Arizona where he filed an action in superior court to register and enforce the North Carolina custody order. Ms. Campo defended and alleged domestic violence against Mr. Melgar. After an evidentiary hearing, the Arizona family court registered the North Carolina custody order and modified it giving sole custody to Ms. Campo. Mr. Melgar timely appealed.

On appeal, Mr. Melgar asserted that the family court abused its jurisdiction by modifying the custody order in violation of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). See A.R.S. §§ 25-1001 to –1067 (2001). The Court of Appeals agreed. The Court noted that the primary purpose of the UCCJEA was to avoid jurisdictional competition among state courts in child custody matters. Thus, the UCCJEA establishes exclusive, continuing jurisdiction in the court that enters the first child custody determination concerning a particular child unless, (a) both parents and the child move out of the forum state, or (b) the original court relinquishes its jurisdiction. A.R.S. § 25-1033. Because Mr. Melgar remained a resident of North Carolina and there was no indication in the record that the North Carolina court had relinquished its jurisdiction, the Arizona family court did not have jurisdiction to modify the North Carolina custody order.

Presiding Judge Portley authored the opinion; Judge Barker and Judge Ehrlich concurred.