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Pierce v. Slate

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 7, 2017

Laurie Pierce
v.
Josh Slate

         On Appeal from Superior Court, Bennington Unit, Family Division, John W.Valente, J.

          Cristina Mansfield of Mansfield Law, LLC, Manchester Center, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Brian K. Marthage, Bennington, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll, JJ.

          CARROLL, J.

         ¶ 1. Mother appeals from the trial court's dismissal of her parentage action under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), as well as its denial of her motion to reconsider. Mother essentially argues that Vermont, not Virginia, should assert jurisdiction over this child custody case. We affirm.[1]

         ¶ 2. As set forth in greater detail below, mother and father are the parents of a child born in Vermont in June 2016. The child also lived with parents for a time in Virginia. Father initiated child custody proceedings in Virginia in August 2016 and was granted custody of the child. Mother appealed that decision within the Virginia court system. Mother then filed a parentage action in Vermont. Following a joint hearing before Virginia and Vermont courts, the Virginia court retained jurisdiction over the custody case, and the Vermont court dismissed the parentage action.

         I. UCCJEA

         ¶ 3. To place mother's arguments in context, we begin with an overview of the UCCJEA, codified at 15 V.S.A. §§ 1061-1096. As set forth below, the UCCJEA "prioritizes home state jurisdiction in initial custody determinations, " and "clearly enunciates that the original decree state retains exclusive continuing jurisdiction over its custody orders." Ward v. LaRue, 2016 VT 81, ¶ 17, __ Vt.__, 150 A.3d 631 (quotation omitted). Where a child is less than six months of age, "home state" "means the state in which the child lived from birth" with a parent or a person acting as a parent. 15 V.S.A. § 1061(7) (indicating that "[a] period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period"). A child might have no "home state." See In re A.W., 2014 VT 32, ¶ 20, 196 Vt. 228, 94 A.3d 1161 (concluding that child had no "home state" at age of three weeks where she was born in New York but moved to Vermont at one week old with parent who intended to reside there; child had not "lived from birth" in either New York or Vermont); see also In re Cifarelli, 158 Vt. 249, 253-54, 611 A.2d 394, 396-97(1992) (concluding under same definition in predecessor statute that child who was less than six months old had "no home state" because she had neither lived consecutively in one state for six months "[n]or had she lived in any one state 'from birth' to the commencement of proceedings").

         ¶ 4. Mother relies heavily on 15 V.S.A. § 1071(a), which concerns "[i]nitial child custody jurisdiction." Section 1071 provides, with an exception not relevant here, that:

(a) . . . a Vermont court has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:
(1) Vermont is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from Vermont, but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in Vermont;
(2) A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under subdivision (1) of this subsection, or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that Vermont is the more appropriate forum under section 1077 or 1078 of this title, and:
(A) the child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with Vermont other than mere physical presence; and
(B) substantial evidence is available in Vermont concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
(3) All courts having jurisdiction under subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the grounds that a Vermont court is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under section 1077 or 1078 of this title; or
(4) No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in subdivision (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection.

(Emphasis added.) An " '[i]nitial determination' means the first child custody determination concerning a particular child." Id. ยง ...


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