Court Transfers Child Custody Case Jurisdiction to Ohio in Media Glare

Recently an interstate custody case has been showered with media attention. As a Maryland Child Custody lawyer, I discuss it here, not because of its drama, but because it is instructive on how interstate custody cases are handled.

At the center of the dispute is Rifqa Barry, a 17 year old whose Muslim parents had immigrated to the United States to provide their daughter with medical treatment for an eye ailment. She had converted to Christianity and run away in fear that her parents might harm her because of her repudiation of her Muslim religion. In Florida, the courts had assumed emergency jurisdiction over her based on the allegations of threats by her parents. Investigation of these allegations failed to corroborate her fears.

Disputes about which state should assume jurisdiction in these cases fall under a federal law that has been adopted by all 50 states.

Dispute about which state should assume jurisdiction fall under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act that has been adopted by all 50 states. Prior to the act, states courts could often battle over jurisdiction and produce contradictory results. The act was adopted to avoid conflicts among the states and thus bring “order to chaos”. Under the Act, one of the states that has jurisdiction will bow out in favor of the other. This is based on a coordinated determination of which state is the more appropriate forum.

This decision is made by way of a phone call between the two judges who confer by telephone.

This is exactly what occurred last week, when Judge Daniel Dawson of Florida and Judge Elizabeth Gill of Ohio conferred over speaker phones with lawyers, representatives of numerous government agencies and the media listening. The conclusion was that Judge Dawson received sufficient assurances of Rifqa’a safety (she will be put in custody of the Franklin County Ohio Children’s Services Agency and place with a pre-selected foster care family) that he ruled that Florida would decline jurisdiction.

My judgment as a parent and former elected official is that Ohio has been sufficiently alerted to the concerns about Rifqa’s safety. The decision appears sound. One can only hope that the family can be reconciled. No doubt that was a factor that weighed heavily in favor of the transfer.