When the child was born in 2014, the biological mother signed multiple powers of attorney to assign parental rights to Slayden and Price, and listed Slayden as the father on the birth certificate.
In January 2017, Price filed a third party rights petition to establish legal decision-making authority under A.R.S. § 25-409(A). This statute enables non-parents who stand in the place of a legal parent to obtain enforceable rights to legal decision-making (commonly known as legal custody) and physical placement of the child. Slayden also sought third party rights after genetic testing determined he was not the biological father of the child.
After the family court held a three-day trial, it granted Price’s petition for immediate physical custody and ordered Slayden to have no “access” or “parenting time rights” with the minor child.
Slayden filed this appeal.
Slayden first argued that Arizona lacked jurisdiction over him because he was a Nevada resident. Jurisdiction refers to the court’s authority to hear and decide a particular case.
In cases involving child custody, jurisdiction is determined pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (called the “UCCJEA”). As its name implies, the UCCJEA is a statutory framework adopted by every state except Massachusetts to uniformly resolve child custody jurisdiction determinations.
Under the UCCJEA, a state has authority to make initial child custody determinations if it was the “home state” of the child on the date when the action commenced or within six months before that date if the child is now absent from the state but a parent or a person acting as a parent continued to live in the state.
A.R.S. § 25-1002(7)(a) defines home state as “[t]he state in which [the] child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding, including any period during which that person is temporarily absent from that state.”
It is perfectly normal if this sounds like gibberish because interstate jurisdiction is something that even some child custody attorneys do not fully understand. Essentially, it just means that the state where the child has lived most recently is generally the proper forum where parents (or individuals in the place of parents) should file their petitions to establish child custody orders. Jurisdiction to modify existing child custody orders may be analyzed a little bit differently. A state that entered child custody orders retains exclusive jurisdiction so long as the child or at least one of the parents continues to reside in that state. There are caveats so this is something that always should be discussed with an experienced child custody attorney.
In this case, Arizona had jurisdiction to make the initial child custody determination because the child was born and resided in Arizona for more than a year until about a month before Price filed her third party rights petition.
Family Court Rulings
Slayden also alleged judicial bias in the family court, irregularities regarding witness testimony including supposedly perjured testimony, and the denial of his motion to compel discovery answers from Price.
When Slayden filed his appeal, he did not provide transcripts from the court hearings where the errors allegedly occurred. Without transcripts, the Court of Appeals presumes findings sufficient to support the family court’s various rulings.
It is important to understand that an appeal is not an opportunity to reweigh evidence or reconsider determinations of witness credibility, even if it seems like it is obvious that a witness testified falsely. It is not another trial and there is no opportunity to testify or admit additional evidence. An appeal is a highly technical proceeding limited to review of the record to determine if the trial court made any error that prejudiced the appealing party.
Slayden next argued that the family court erred when it allowed Price to challenge paternity. He argued that the challenge was time barred or too late pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-812. But the Court of Appeals explained that any party may challenge paternity even after the statutorily defined period of time on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.
Mother alleged that she listed Slayden as the father on the birth certificate even though she knew he was not the biological father. Slayden argued on appeal that if this constituted fraud it was perpetrated exclusively by Mother. But Mother was still a party to the case and the family court acted within its discretion to characterize her misrepresentation of Slayden’s parentage as fraud.