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UCCJEA: Illinois refuses to register Indiana custody ruling: the Illinois Supreme Court refuses to register an Indiana custody ruling where the Indiana court did not return the Illinois court's repeated phone calls.

In affirming a trial court's refusal to register an out-of-state custody judgment under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, "the Illinois Supreme Court has reconfirmed how vital communication between courts is in determining jurisdiction" in cases involving competing custody proceedings, says UCCJEA maven Celia Gamrath of Chicago. The case is In re Sophia G.L., 2008 WL 2131578 (Ill Sup Ct).

The facts

Born in Indiana in September 2005, Sophia is the daughter of then 22-year-old Alexis Lindeman and Andrew Cochran, who were unmarried. Ten days later, Sophia and Alexis moved into the home of Alexis's father and stepmother, John and Yvonne Lindeman, remaining there for six months. Alexis and Sophia then, on March 30, 2006, moved in with Andrew and his extended family in Illinois.

On April 4, 2006, John and Yvonne filed a verified emergency petition for Sophia's custody in the local Indiana trial court. In their petition, they alleged that Alexis was incapable of caring for Sophia and that they were Sophia's de facto custodians under Indiana law as her financial providers and primary caregivers. They referred to Andrew as Sophia's "alleged father" and, the opinion continues, asserted that Andrew had neither established paternity nor participated in Sophia's life apart from two visits after she was born.

The Indiana court held a hearing on the Lindemans' petition on April 11, 2006. The Lindemans and Alexis's mother, Kathy Engle, were present; Andrew and Alexis were not. The Lindemans represented to the court that they had verbally advised Alexis of the hearing's date and hand-delivered notice to her, though not to Andrew. The court record showed that a lawyer had telephoned the court on Alexis's behalf and requested a continuance, which the Indiana court denied.

Among other matters, the Lindemans and Engle testified that Alexis was emotionally troubled and unstable, that she made poor life decisions, that she had had difficulty when she was in school, that the Lindemans provided all of Sophia's financial support except for government-subsidized formula, and that Alexis had never "bonded" with Sophia and cared for Sophia only when John and Yvonne were away from home. Turning to Andrew and his family, the Lindemans expressed concerns over the living conditions in Andrew's home because several unemployed adults also resided there.

Based on their testimony, the trial court entered an order granting John and Yvonne temporary emergency custody of Sophia, appointing a guardian ad litem for Sophia, ordering that Sophia be brought immediately to Indiana, and set another hearing for April 18, 2006. Though copies of the order were sent to Alexis and her lawyer, Andrew was not included.

On the same day, Andrew presented his own petition to establish paternity in the circuit court of Greene County, Illinois. The circuit judge presiding entered an order finding that Andrew had established the existence of a father-child relationship with Sophia but declined to take further action because of the pending Indiana proceeding. He then recused himself and reassigned the matter to a different judge.

Alexis then filed a motion to dismiss the Lindemans' custody action for lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficient process in the Indiana court, alleging, among other things, that she was an Illinois resident before her parents filed their petition and, therefore, not subject to Indiana law. She also apprised the Indiana court of the Illinois proceedings on Andrew's petition and appeared at the Indiana court's April 18 hearing.

Notwithstanding Alexis's information, the Indiana court entered an order on April 18 directing her to return Sophia to her father and stepmother. Alexis did not do so, and, at the Lindemans' request, the Indiana court issued a bench warrant for Alexis's arrest and ordered that an Amber Alert be issued for Sophia.

Illinois calls Indiana eight times without success

Three days later, Andrew filed an emergency petition for joint custody of Sophia in Illinois, stating that Sophia and her parents were all Illinois residents and that he and Alexis were fit to have her custody. The Illinois court awarded Alexis and Andrew temporary joint custody of Sophia and continued the matter for a custody hearing.

Both courts continued to conduct custody proceedings. The supreme court's opinion observes that the Illinois judge telephoned the Indiana judge on no fewer than eight occasions without success, either in speaking to the Indiana judge personally or in having the Indiana judge return her calls.

Ignoring these efforts, the Indiana judge then entered an order finding that her court had and would retain jurisdiction over Sophia's custody, requesting that the Illinois court recognize its authority, and ordering Sophia's immediate return to the Lindemans. Continuing her attempts to discuss the case with the Indiana judge, the Illinois judge sent no fewer than four letters to her documenting her repeated attempts to reach her by phone, reiterating her desire to discuss the matter with her, and requesting that the Indiana judge decline jurisdiction. The Indiana judge never responded. Ultimately, at a properly scheduled and noticed hearing, the Illinois court denied the Lindemans' petition to register the Indiana judgment.

The Lindemans appealed, prevailing in the Illinois Appellate Court. reversing, the Illinois Supreme Court sustained Andrew's position against registration of the Indiana order.

The high court found that under 750 ILCS 36/305(d)(3) Andrew had not been given proper notice of the Indiana proceedings once the Illinois court found that he was Sophia's father--an order of which the Indiana court was well aware by the time of its second hearing in the case. Observing that the Indiana court gave Andrew no opportunity to be heard before its entry of further orders, the court said "[w]e will not construe the UCCJEA to require an Illinois court to recognize any judgment that would effectively deprive a father, who has properly established paternity, of his parental rights without notice or hearing." Sophia G.L. at *14.

The court deplored the Indiana judge's unwillingness to communicate with the Illinois judge, noting that the UCCJEA mandates such communication. 750 ILCS 336/206(b). "The Indiana court's order would have had Sophia taken from her mother and father and brought to Indiana by law enforcement personnel. A decision of such magnitude certainly warrants a telephone conversation between the courts involved." Id.

Gamrath, whose article, UCCJEA: A New Approach to Custody Jurisdiction and Interstate Custody and Visitation, appeared in the April 2004 issue of the Journal, comments that "the UCCJEA's notice provisions are not very difficult to satisfy." She observes how easy it would have been both for the Lindemans to give Andrew legally sufficient notice and for Andrew, who "clearly knew about the Indiana proceedings and had actual notice of the April 18 hearing date," to intervene in the Indiana action and protect his rights in that forum. "He did not, which obviously worked to his advantage" in the action on his own turf.

The opinion leaves unanswered how much money the parties spent in litigating the various proceedings and whether the Lindemans will ever have anything approaching a cordial relationship with their granddaughter and her parents.

Helen W. Gunnarsson is an attorney and writer in Highland Park. She can be reached at <gunnarssonhg@comcast.net>.
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Title Annotation:Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
Author:Gunnarsson, Helen W.
Publication:Illinois Bar Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:1190
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