NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 7, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FD-07-2752-13.
Jessica Ragno Sprague argued the cause for the appellant (Weinberger Law Group, L.L.C., attorneys; Ms. Sprague, on the brief).
Rhea L. Moore argued for the cause for the respondent.
Before Judges Grall, Waugh, and Nugent.
Defendant Arnold Peoples, an Illinois resident, appeals from a Family Part order that denied his motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction plaintiff Shawna Grant's complaint seeking custody of their three-year-old child. Peoples contends the judge who entered the order misapplied the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), N.J.S.A. 2A:34-53 to -95, when he determined that New Jersey, not Illinois, had jurisdiction over the custody dispute. Our review of the motion record reveals the judge did not make the findings of fact that were necessary to determine whether New Jersey had initial jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. The judge also misapplied the law. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Grant and Peoples once shared a relationship but never married. During their relationship Grant conceived their daughter. From her birth in January 2010 through December 24, 2011, their daughter lived with Grant in New Jersey. Peoples never resided in New Jersey but visited Grant and their daughter there, and their daughter spent some time with him at his Virginia residence. In September 2011 Peoples moved to Illinois, where Grant and the child visited him during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that year. The child remained with Peoples after Grant returned to New Jersey following the Christmas holidays.
From December 24, 2011 through February 2013, when the parties filed custody actions in New Jersey and Illinois, their daughter spent time both with Grant in New Jersey and with Peoples in Illinois. She stayed with her father in Illinois from December 24, 2011 through May 27, 2012; with her mother in New Jersey from May 28, 2012 to October 6, 2012; and with her father in Illinois from October 7, 2012 through March 2013 when the Family Part hearing occurred. Grant and Peoples sharply dispute the reason their daughter spent time with the other parent. Each parent contends the child was temporarily visiting when she was with the other parent.
Grant claimed the time the child spent in Illinois from December 24, 2011 to May 27, 2012 was temporary. According to Grant, she told Peoples in November 2011 that she had conceived their second child. He wanted her to move to Illinois so that they could be together as a family. On January 2, 2012, when Grant returned to New Jersey for medical treatment following her holiday visit with Peoples in Illinois, she permitted Peoples to keep their child temporarily while she was in New Jersey. In February 2012, when she returned to Illinois to get the child, she was no longer pregnant and Peoples ended their relationship. She agreed to permit their daughter to remain with Peoples until May 2012. Grant claims the only reason she agreed to allow their daughter to stay with Peoples is because Peoples threatened her with deportation; she was not a legal resident of the United States.
Peoples disputed Grant's testimony. According to Peoples, Grant wanted their daughter to live with him to take advantage of a better opportunity "in terms of schooling and stability[.]" Peoples claimed that Grant wanted to change jobs and needed to work on some other personal matters. During Grant's holiday stay with Peoples in December 2011, she and Peoples visited a day care center called KinderCare and, together, they registered their daughter. The child began attending KinderCare on January 3, 2012.
Peoples produced a letter from KinderCare Learning Centers in Darien, Illinois, confirming the child was registered on December 30, 2011, and attended full-time from January 3 through May 25, 2012. The letter also stated that the child returned to KinderCare on October 10, 2012, and was still attending KinderCare as of February 2013. Peoples also produced a letter from a pediatric practice in Darien, Illinois, confirming the child had been a patient there since December 27, 2011, and that her next appointment was scheduled in March 2013.
Grant and Peoples also dispute the reason their daughter returned to New Jersey on May 27, 2012, and stayed with Grant until October 6, 2012. Grant claimed that it was because she was the custodial parent. During that time, Grant signed a lease for a new apartment and listed herself and her daughter as occupants. Additionally, the child was treated by her New Jersey pediatrician three times, the last on September 25, 2012. Peoples, however, claims that their daughter was merely visiting with Grant for the summer, and that both he ...