In late August 2023, the Daily Voice reported that police had found a missing four-year-old girl from Connecticut. The girl, who had been taken from her biological father, who had full custody, was found safe and unharmed with her biological mother. The couple had previously resided in Puerto Rico, where the mother had filed multiple domestic violence reports against the father. This case begs the question: How could a father with multiple domestic violence charges in one country be awarded full custody in another? Unfortunately, the answer to that question turns on what matters each of the respective courts had jurisdiction to hear.
What Does Jurisdiction Mean?
In family law matters the term Jurisdiction refers to the authority of a particular court to hear and decide a case. In the state of New Jersey, jurisdiction in family law cases is governed by a set of rules and statutes designed to ensure that cases are heard in the appropriate court.
Divorces, Legal Separations, and Annulments
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, has jurisdiction over these matters. Divorces and annulments in New Jersey are typically determined by the residency of the parties involved. New Jersey Revised Statutes 2A: 34-8 requires that either party must have been a resident of New Jersey for at least one year before filing for divorce or annulment.
Child Custody and Visitation
New Jersey courts generally have jurisdiction if the child has significant connections to the state. Jurisdiction over child custody and parenting time disputes is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Under the UCCJEA, the primary factor is the child's "home state," which is the state where the child has lived with a parent or guardian for at least six consecutive months. Therefore, even if one parent is a resident of Pennsylvania or New York when they file for a divorce if the child has consecutively resided in New Jersey with the other parent for at least six months, the UCCJEA would dictate jurisdiction.
The New Jersey Family Part of the Superior Court also handles child support cases. Jurisdiction is typically based on the residence of the child or the non-custodial parent. For child support cases that also address the question of paternity, New Jersey may assume jurisdiction over the matter if the child was conceived in New Jersey or if the father was found in, resides in, or died in New Jersey.
In cases involving domestic violence, jurisdiction is not tied to residency. New Jersey courts have jurisdiction over domestic violence matters that occur within the state, regardless of where the parties reside. For instance, a New Jersey court could hear a domestic violence matter that results from an assault in New Jersey, even if the parties resided in another state.
Similar to divorce cases, New Jersey Revised Statutes 2A 34-8 grants jurisdiction over spousal support matters determined by the residency of the parties. The Family Part of the Superior Court handles spousal support cases in New Jersey.
Have Questions About a Multiple Jurisdiction Matter?
Family law matters are often complicated by a lengthy history as well as incidents in multiple jurisdictions caused by the parties' detached lifestyles. It is not uncommon to have matters for divorce and alimony in a completely different state than a domestic violence or child custody matter. While this is true across the entire country, it is even truer for East Coast states that are geographically closer to one another.
If you have a family law matter with multiple jurisdictions and need help navigating your next steps, the Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm is here to help! Contact us today by calling (888) 535-3686 or by using our online contact form.