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Arizona Court Must Contact Out of State Court that had Entered Child Custody Order Before Attempting to Modify that Court’s Order.

In our highly mobile society wherein people and their families relocate from time to time, it is not uncommon for a party to attempt to modify or enforce an out-of-state divorce decree or paternity order in Arizona. In the case of Melgar v. Campo, 1 CA-CV 06-0408 (filed July 26, 2007), an issue arose over whether the Arizona Court could modify a North Carolina child custody order. The mother had moved to Arizona with the child without telling the father, who had been awarded custody of the child in the North Carolina Order. Father remained in North Carolina and had to hire a private detective to finally locate her and the child in Arizona.

The father then registered the North Carolina Order in the Maricopa County Superior Court, in Phoenix, Arizona, and filed a Petition seeking to enforce the Order so that the child would be returned to him. The Arizona Court held an evidentiary hearing and modified the North Carolina Order, instead of enforcing it, and granted sole custody to the mother. Father appealed the ruling to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals applied the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which had been adopted by both Arizona and North Carolina, to determine whether the Arizona Court could modify the North Carolina order. The Court held that since the purpose of the UCCJEA was to resolve issues concerning interstate custody disputes, the Arizona Court should have contacted the North Carolina Court first to determine if the North Carolina Court would relinquish its “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” so that the Arizona Court could then modify the order. Since the Arizona Court had failed to do so, the modification order was vacated, as Arizona did not have jurisdiction (authority) to modify the out-of-state order. The case was sent back to the Maricopa County Superior Court for further proceedings.

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