ANNAPOLIS – Two states, two parents, one child and several conflicting court orders have created confusion for nearly a year about whether Maryland or Tennessee has jurisdiction in a custody battle – but it shouldn’t have.
A standardized jurisdiction law at least 17 years old was supposed to clear up such issues, but it turns out that each state is putting its own spin on the rules.
“This case demonstrates that . . . those varying determinations obscure the uniformity that the act was intended to create,” said Steven Gonzales, attorney for Kathie Gruber, the Maryland party to the custody dispute.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act seeks to avoid turf wars in family battles by giving states with “home state jurisdiction” priority to hear the case. It defines a child’s home state as the one where the child has lived with a parent for six consecutive months.
The problem in this case, David Gruber argued, is his wife Kathie intentionally deceived him in order to establish residency in Maryland.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals sent the case back to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to reconsider David Gruber’s argument.
If the circuit court finds Kathie Gruber used deception to obtain Maryland jurisdiction, then it must decide if the child’s interest would be better served if the case were kept here.
David Gruber testified his wife left Tennessee with their then-10-month- old daughter in March 2000 and held out the possibility of reconciling their marriage until September 2000.
During this time, according to David Gruber’s testimony, Kathie Gruber dissuaded him from filing for custody in Tennessee, threatening that if he did, reconciliation would be out of the question.
On Sept. 26, 2000, five days after the six-month anniversary of their daughter’s arrival in Maryland, Kathie Gruber e-mailed her husband to tell him their relationship was over. On Oct. 11, 2000, she filed for a divorce and custody of their daughter.
David Gruber then filed a divorce and custody complaint in Tennessee, resulting in the two states claiming jurisdiction.
Since Tennessee awarded temporary custody to David Gruber and Maryland awarded temporary custody to Kathie Gruber, “whoever wins the jurisdictional battle, wins the custody battle – at least at this point,” said Bill Ferris, David Gruber’s attorney.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals also considered David Gruber’s argument that his daughter’s six-month stay in Maryland was a “temporary absence” from her home state of Tennessee until June 2000, which is when he realized his wife’s move might be permanent.
David Gruber argued Tennessee was still the child’s home state when he filed for custody in Tennessee Oct. 18, 2000.
But, the court rejected his argument, saying there wasn’t evidence to prove Kathie Gruber’s move was temporary.
The uniform custody law doesn’t define “temporary absence,” leaving each state to determine a meaning for itself.
While the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court re-examines this case, a similar one remains pending in Tennessee.
“As it stands right now we have complete deadlock,” said Ferris. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court has not yet scheduled a hearing date. – 30 – CNS 11-01-01