An example of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) working just as it is supposed to, to discourage opportunistic forum shopping and child snatching, is provided by an opinion called Foster v. Foster, ___ Va. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____, 23 VLW 299 (8/12/08) from the Court of Appeals. After a mother took three children from Virginia to Maine and there got a ex parte protective order and, using the “emergency” provisions of the UCCJEA got a temporary custody order by alleging domestic violence by the father, she responded to the Virginia custody order that the father had meanwhile gotten from the local JDR court by appealing it to circuit court. There she argued that under the UCCJEA, Virginia should give up its home state jurisdiction and continuing jurisdiction because it was an “inconvenient forum.”
The UCCJEA has provisions describing what should happen when such a claim is made, and a Virginia judge followed the statutory procedure by contacting the Maine trial court, discussing it thoroughly, including all the factors listed by §20-146.18, and then decided to go ahead and keep the custody case. The Virginia court’s discussion with the Maine court covered all the statutory law required factors. One of the main revisions when the UCCJEA replaced the UCCJA was to stir in some sexual politics and add domestic violence as an inconvenient forum factor, and that was covered, along with the fact that Virginia was, after all, the UCCJEA home state and the fact that it had UCCJEA exclusive continuing jurisdiction over these children. And, of course, the more conventional relative-convenience-of-forum factors were discussed as well. Agreeing with the Virginia court that jurisdiction belonged here, the Maine court entered an order endorsing that jurisdiction, holding that Virginia was not an inconvenient forum, nor an inappropriate one. Then, as it is supposed to do when finding that another forum is more convenient, the Maine court declined to exercise whatever jurisdiction it might have, and vacated the protective order and temporary custody award that it had granted pursuant to its UCCJEA “emergency jurisdiction” powers. The Virginia circuit court heard evidence on all of the eight statutory “inconvenient forum” factors. Looking at the Record, the Court of Appeals finds no abuse of discretion at the circuit court level and affirms the father’s custody award.