Posted by Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC on September 20, 2019
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When parents split up, many find it difficult to determine how child custody will work for them. In the end, it’s up to the courts to make the final decision in the best interests of the child. However, here’s a problem. When parents move around quite a bit, a custody dispute can become a matter of which court has jurisdiction.
On May 29, 2019, the Clerk of the Appellate Courts filed the ruling in the case entitled Mitra v. Irigreddy. Suneetha Irigireddy, the mother and Samrat Mitra, the father had one child together. They are of Indian descent and were married in India in 2002.
After the father received a work visa, they moved to North Carolina. Their child was born in North Carolina in 2007. A little more than a year later, the mother and child traveled to India. A month later, the father followed them to India.
While they were in India, the mother and child stayed with the mother’s parents. When the father returned to India, he stayed with his parents. They didn’t live close but managed to visit on occasion.
Six months after his return to India, the father accepted a new job in Canada. The mother followed her husband, however left their child in the care of her parents. After all, they did not have a home set up yet in Canada.
Another six months passed, and the couple’s daughter joined them in Canada. By this time, she was two years old.
Custody Dispute Involved Several Parental Moves
In January of 2010, the couple returned to the United State to maintain their immigration status. The mother accepted employment in North Carolina. Although the father looked for a job in the same state for several months, he couldn’t find one. Ultimately, he accepted employment in Texas.
Undoubtedly, the distance between the two caused problems within their marriage. The father only came back to visit twice in 2010. Subsequent to his last visit in 2010, the father showed up to visit his daughter in February 2011. Notably, he didn’t advise the mother he intended to visit, and no one was home to greet him or allow the visit.
As a result of this attempt, the father said he was “happy to be alone” and wanted no further contact. At some point, the mother and child relocated to Memphis, Tennessee.
Meanwhile, the father kept to his word. He did not see the child from his last visit in December of 2010 until July 2012. Once again, he showed up unannounced – this time to the mother’s apartment in Memphis. The father had already obtained a divorce in Texas.
From all appearances, the lack of contact between the father and daughter impacted their relationship. The visit did not go well, and the father returned to Texas. The mother and father communicated by email to set up future visits.
In one of the emails, the father lamented about what he perceived as the mother’s lack of initiative in encouraging visits in Tennessee or Texas. In big caps, the father ended his note with the words, “YOU CAN KEEP HER!”
Yet Another Move
The mother went on with her life. She accepted employment in New Jersey in April of 2013. Meanwhile, she took the child to live with her parents in India. The mother visited the daughter every six months and spoke with her daily. Subsequently, she began custody proceedings while she was in India.
In the meantime, the father filed for custody in the Circuit Court for Shelby County in 2014. The mother returned to the United States in February 2015 after receiving notification from the court of her former husband’s court petition.
The Tennessee court designated the mother as the temporary, primary residential parent. Additionally, the judge ordered her to enroll the daughter in school in New Jersey. Both parents were also ordered to attend counseling with the goal of reunifying the father’s relationship with the daughter.
That said, the mother questioned the court’s jurisdiction. After all, neither she nor the father resided in Tennessee. Additionally, the last time their daughter lived there was in 2013.
Ultimately, the parties agreed to the jurisdiction as far as custody and child support issues. However, the mother then asked that jurisdiction be changed to New Jersey after the conclusion of the hearing.
The mother and father debated on issues regarding support and parenting time. However, both the lower court and the Appeals Court agreed that it was not the time to transfer jurisdiction. Since the parties moved around so much, it would make sense to consider a change in jurisdiction only if and when they needed to return to court.