Fitzgerald v. JacksonAnnotate this Case
This case concerns a child custody dispute between Kelly K. Fitzgerald and James W.A. Jackson. The parties have two minor children, who have dual citizenship of the United States and Australia. The children have lived in Rhode Island with the Plaintiff since 2015. The Defendant, an Australian citizen, argued that the Family Court of Rhode Island lacked jurisdiction over the dispute, contending that there was a simultaneous case in Australia and that he had no personal ties to Rhode Island.
The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Family Court's decision over the custody dispute, confirming that Rhode Island had jurisdiction over the matter. The Supreme Court confirmed that the Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over child-custody cases as a matter of law and that the defendant had waived the issue of personal jurisdiction and consented to jurisdiction in Rhode Island by availing himself of the laws of Rhode Island.
The Court found that the Family Court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) because Rhode Island was the children's home state at the time the proceedings were commenced, and no other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in the act. The UCCJEA treats a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States for the purpose of applying its provisions. The Court also noted that the Australian court had declined to exercise jurisdiction over the case, further supporting the Family Court's jurisdiction.
The Court also rejected the defendant's argument that the Family Court should not have issued orders regarding child support and custody without first making a jurisdictional finding, noting that the defendant himself had filed a motion for custody, participated in mediation, and submitted a form prior to a hearing on child support. The Court concluded that the hearing justice did not err in finding that the Rhode Island Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter.
Finally, the Court concluded that the hearing justice erred in not ruling on the defendant's emergency motion for temporary orders, apparently seeking visitation with the children during the summer, because at the time, no order had been entered divesting the Family Court of jurisdiction, and no appeal had been filed. The matter was remanded to the Family Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.