California Court of Appeals has ruled that Juvenile Court was not wrong by assuming emergency UCCJEA jurisdiction over children whose home state was Mexico and whose parent had driven them to U.S. to provide cover for her drug smuggling. In the case of In re A.M., Mother and Father, had an informal custody arrangement regarding their two children whereby they each had custody on alternating weeks. Mother and Children had been living with Mother’s boyfriend in Tijuana, Mexico, for over six months when Mother got into financial trouble. Mother’s solution to her financial woes was to enter into an agreement with Father to smuggle drugs into the U.S. According to Mother, she knew that Father would put drugs in her car, but did not know exactly which drugs she would be transporting. Mother took Children along in the car “in hopes of avoiding detection.” Mother’s ruse did not work and on April 29, 2013, she was arrested at the border for attempting to smuggle three pounds of heroin from Mexico to U.S.
On May 1, 2013, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) filed a petition to make Children dependents of Juvenile Court, on the basis that Mother and Father put Children at substantial risk of harm by involving them in their smuggling operation. At detention hearing, Juvenile Court found that Children’s home state under UCCJEA [Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act; California Family Code Section 3400 et seq.] was Mexico, but it assumed emergency jurisdiction over Children and ordered them detained with their maternal great-aunt. Juvenile Court then set further hearing in order to contact or provide notice to Mexico Trial Court for determination of UCCJEA jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Mother pled guilty to drug charges and faced a sentence of 3 to 5 years in prison. Mother had weekly visits with Children and Father called them from Mexico every day. Father told HHSA that he would participate in services, but would not come to the U.S. because he feared being arrested.
At June 14, 2013 hearing, Juvenile Court heard arguments regarding emergency jurisdiction and found that it had such jurisdiction because Children had been placed in danger by Mother and Father and returning them to Mexico in Father’s care would put them at continued risk. Juvenile Court then found allegations of petition true, declared Children dependents of Juvenile Court, removed them from Mother and Father’s care, placed them with a relative, and ordered reunification services. Claiming that Juvenile Court erred by assuming UCCJEA jurisdiction without contacting Mexico Trial Court, Mother and Father appealed, and now California Court of Appeals has affirmed Juvenile Court’s decision.
The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) Mexico was Children’s home state because they had lived there for more than six months before HHSA filed the dependency petition; (2) UCCJEA requires Juvenile Court to treat Mexico as if it were a state in the U.S.; (3) UCCJEA authorizes Juvenile Court to assume emergency jurisdiction temporarily for child’s protection from immediate risk of danger, but only for as long as the underlying conditions exist; (4) Juvenile Court did not err in assuming emergency UCCJEA jurisdiction over Children on these facts; and (5) Juvenile Court erred by failing to contact Mexico Trial Court. Therefore, Court of Appeals has affirmed Juvenile Court’s jurisdictional and dispositional orders, but sends the case back to Juvenile Court for the limited purpose of contacting and providing notice to Mexican authorities for determination of whether Mexico Trial Court wants to assume UCCJEA jurisdiction. Those orders will be continue in effect if Mexico Trial Court declines to exercise jurisdiction, but are to be voided if Mexico Trial Court assumes jurisdiction and begins proceedings.