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Chicago Child Custody and Jurisdiction

Chicago Child Custody and Jurisdiction

By: M. Scott Gordon

When can an Illinois court decide child custody matters, and when does it lack jurisdiction? The Illinois Supreme Court recently heard a case, McCormick v. Robertson, concerning subject matter jurisdiction and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, 750 ILCS 36/201. Let’s take a closer look at the case.

Facts of McCormick v. Robertson

In McCormick, the parents of a child were involved in a custody battle. The parents only had a brief relationship, which produced the child. The father is an Illinois resident, and the mother is a Missouri resident. Back in 2010, the father filed a petition for custody and rights in an Illinois Circuit Court. The mother came to Illinois for the case, and the parties presented the court with a joint parenting agreement. The court entered a final judgment for joint parenting.

In 2013, the father returned to the Illinois Circuit Court and filed a petition seeking to terminate the original parenting agreement and to seek sole custody of the child. The mother argued that, under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the Circuit Court in Illinois never had subject matter jurisdiction over the custody issue in the first place, and thus the original agreement was invalid.

In early 2014, the two state courts had a telephone conference and determined that the Illinois Circuit Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction, and thus the 2010 judgment was void. The courts then also determined that Nevada (where the child now lives) was the child’s “home state,” and thus Nevada had subject matter jurisdiction.

The father appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court found in favor of the father, concluding that the court did have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the child custody case. The Appellate Court emphasized that the section of the UCCJEA at issue—section 201—“simply establishes the procedural framework within which a circuit court may properly exercise its subject matter jurisdiction.” In other words, the Appellate Court concluded that a circuit court’s subject matter jurisdiction derives from the constitution, and thus subject matter jurisdiction cannot derive from a section of the UCCJEA. To be sure, the UCCJEA can’t provide subject matter jurisdiction or take it away.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction Appeal Before the Supreme Court

After the Appellate Court’s holding, the mother appealed. By the time the case reached the Illinois Supreme Court, both Nevada and Illinois had asserted jurisdiction over the case. In oral arguments, the mother contended that provisions of the UCCJEA can determine subject matter jurisdiction. And, in the event that the circuit court did have jurisdiction, that court didn’t have jurisdiction in the particular case at hand.

The mother argued that her case isn’t like any of the ones that have previously come before the court. The father emphasized that the mother never appealed the original order, and she never raised any concerns about subject matter jurisdiction when the original parenting agreement was put into place.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court decides, it will need to attend to some of the following key questions:

  •      Where does subject matter jurisdiction come from in Illinois when it comes to a child custody dispute—from the UCCJEA or from the state constitution?
  •      Is the Circuit Court’s order necessarily void, or is it simply voidable?
  •      Is there a bright-line rule (or, could the court define one) for determining subject matter jurisdiction in all child custody cases in Illinois?

Child custody questions can be extremely complicated, and it’s always important to discuss your case with an experienced Chicago child custody lawyer. Contact the law offices of M. Scott Gordon & Associates today.