Monday, February 4, 20008
C.A.: Clarifies Scope of Statutory TRO in Parentage Cases
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The standard restraining order issued in parentage cases prohibiting a parent from removing a child from the state without the other party’s consent or a court order does not require a parent to bring a nonresident child into the state, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. One held that San Diego Superior Court Judge David Oberholtzer did not err when he issued a temporary custody order allowing a Colorado woman who filed custody proceedings in California to continue living in Colorado with her child, rather than return to California, because Family Code Sec. 7700 raises no presumption that a parent residing in another state with a child at the time he or she seeks assistance of a California family court must return the child.
The issue arose after the woman, who had previously lived with the child’s father—her boyfriend—in San Diego, moved to Colorado with the child when the relationship deteriorated. One month after leaving, she filed a petition in the San Diego Superior Court to establish that the man was the child’s father, and requested that the court determine custody and visitation, and appropriate child support.
The parties were unable to reach an agreement as to a custody sharing plan through mediation, so Oberholtzer adopted the mediator’s recommendation that the child reside primarily with the mother. He entered a judgment of paternity establishing the man as the child’s father, and temporary custody orders allowing the child to remain in Colorado and granting the father visitation.
Oberholtzer later granted shared legal custody to the couple, awarding primary physical custody to the mother and adopting a detailed visitation schedule providing for visitation to occur in San Diego and Colorado, respectively.
The father appealed, arguing that the trial court should have required the mother to return the child to California when it issued the temporary custody order, rather than allowing them to remain in Colorado. He contended that the restraining order that automatically issues under Family Code Sec. 7700 when a petition is filed required that the child be returned to California, and that the court erred in failing to issue an order to that effect.
Trial Court Upheld
Writing for the court, Justice Cynthia Aaron rejected the man’s contention and affirmed the trial court’s decision.
“As the trial court pointed out,” she wrote, “the statute does not state that a child who is already residing in another state at the time the petition is filed must be returned to California. Rather, the provision states only that a parent may not remove the child from the state, absent written permission from the other party or an order of the court, once the petition has been filed.”
Noting that the child was not in California at the time the petition was filed, Aaron said that there was no indication that the mother had removed the child from the state unlawfully because no party had petitioned the court for an order determining custody at the time.
Although California courts have jurisdiction to make custody determinations with respect to nonresident children in certain circumstances under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, Aaron wrote that there was “no reason to believe that the Legislature intended that children living elsewhere be returned to California anytime a custody proceeding has been initiated in California.”
‘Child’s Best Interest’
She concluded that, even if the court were to accept the father’s contention that Sec. 7700 created a presumption that a parent must return a nonresident child, and that failure to do so would violate the automatic temporary restraining order, “the trial court’s first concern is the child’s best interest.”
“If the trial court has the power to permit a party to remove a child from the state after a petition has been filed…,” she wrote, “the court must have the authority to determine…that a child who has previously been removed from the state need not be returned…if doing so would not be in that child’s best interest.”
Writing that the trial court “clearly believed that” under the circumstances, Aaron concluded that the order permitting the child to remain in Colorado was warranted and that Oberholtzer had not abused his discretion.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, she also concluded that Oberholtzer applied the correct standard in issuing his custody determination, and that he did not abuse his discretion in granting the mother custody. She also wrote that the father had waived procedural errors that he claimed deprived him of a fair hearing for failure to raise them in his opening brief.
Justices Judith L. Haller and Patricia D. Benke joined Aaron in her opinion.
The case is Sarah B. v. Floyd B., 08 S.O.S. 774.
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