In Mangan v. Mangan, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the family court maintained jurisdiction to modify its initial child custody order even though the children relocated to another state with one of the parents. The decision also affirmed the family court’s award of attorney’s fees to the party who possessed significantly more financial resources.
The parties were divorced in 2006 and the family court awarded Mother sole custody and designated her as the primary residential parent for the parties children.
A couple years later, Father filed for post-decree mediation and alleged that Mother was denying his parenting time and communication with the children. Mother then relocated with the children to another state.
Once Father realized Mother had relocated, he filed a petition to enforce parenting time. The family court concluded that Mother was evading service, so it allowed Father to serve Mother by publication. Mother did not appear, so the enforcement hearing was rescheduled. Again, Mother failed to appear, so the family court found her in contempt of court.
Father then filed a petition to modify parenting time, legal decision-making, child support, and a warrant to retrieve the children from Mother’s custody. Mother appeared by telephone and the family court entered temporary orders for Father’s parenting time and telephone access to the children.
By this time, Mother and the children had lived in another state for approximately two years. She retained an attorney who filed a motion to transfer jurisdiction to New Mexico, where Mother and the children lived. The family court denied Mother’s request. Mother renewed her argument at a status hearing. The family court again ruled that Arizona maintained jurisdiction as the children’s home state under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as the UCCJEA.
Next, Mother obtained an order of protection against Father when she alleged Father’s website was linked to illegal child pornography. Additionally, Mother filed multiple petitions for contempt against Father where she requested judgment for nonpayment of child support and sanctions against Father for ‘misrepresentations’ to the family court. Father responded and sought sanctions against Mother and her counsel. At an evidentiary hearing on the order of protection, the order was quashed due to insufficient evidence to support Mother’s allegations.
Eventually the case made it to trial, where the family court denied Mother’s motions for contempt, designated Father as the primary residential parent, and ordered Mother to pay $10,000 of Father’s attorney’s fees pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-324.
On her appeal, Mother again argued that the Arizona family court relinquished jurisdiction when she and the children relocated to New Mexico.
As the Court of Appeals noted, the UCCJEA is a “statute adopted by the majority of states in an effort to resolve ambiguity and create consistency in interstate child custody jurisdiction and enforcement proceedings.” Once initial jurisdiction is properly exercised in child custody proceedings, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-1031, the family court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction until certain conditions are met. Summarily, those conditions (omitted for brevity) require the Arizona court to relinquish jurisdiction. Since the family court in this case never relinquished jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals upheld its decision to exercise continuing jurisdiction over this case.
Mother also appealed Father’s award of attorney’s fees. She argued the award was erroneous because the family court found Father to have substantially more income than Mother. However, the Court of Appeals found that the family court properly considered the parties’ financial resources and balanced that against Mother’s unreasonableness, which justified the court’s award of attorney’s fees.
**Note: Mother’s appellate attorney was also reprimanded for inaccuracies in Mother’s brief and for its reliance on an unpublished memorandum decision. Mother and her attorney were jointly ordered to pay additional attorney’s fees to Father as a sanction.