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Martinez v. Lebron

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

November 15, 2019

MELISSA MARTINEZ, Appellant,
v.
BRANDON LEBRON, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Orange County, Diana Michelle Tennis, Judge.

          Patrick Michael Megaro and Jaime T. Halscott, of Halscott Megaro, P.A., Orlando, for Appellant.

          Nicholas A. Shannin and Carol B. Shannin, of Shannin Law Firm, P.A., Orlando, for Appellee.

          COHEN, J.

         Melissa Martinez ("Mother") appeals the trial court's second amended final judgment of paternity related to Brandon Lebron's ("Father") paternity petition. Primarily, Mother argues that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). She also contends that the trial court erred in entering a time-sharing schedule and granting Father attorney's fees. We affirm.

         Mother and Father are the parents of J.D.L. ("Child"), who was born in New York. The parties were never married, but Father acknowledged paternity immediately after Child's birth. The parties and Child initially lived in New York, but eventually moved to Florida, although the parties disputed the precise date on which Mother intended to permanently move to Florida with Child. Mother and Father's relationship, which was rocky at best, deteriorated further while the parties were living in Florida, and Mother and Child returned to New York.

         Unbeknownst to Father, Mother filed a paternity petition in New York shortly after her return. Two days later, Father filed a paternity petition in Florida, alleging that Mother had absconded with Child to New York. Unaware of the New York petition, the Florida court entered an initial order establishing a temporary time-sharing schedule.

         A Florida court may not exercise jurisdiction under the UCCJEA if, at the time of the commencement of the proceeding in Florida, a child custody proceeding concerning the child had been commenced in another state having jurisdiction substantially in conformity with the UCCJEA, unless the court of the other state terminated or stayed the proceeding because Florida is a more convenient forum. § 61.519(1), Fla. Stat. (2017).

         Upon learning of the New York paternity petition, the Honorable Michael Murphy stayed his initial order, ruling that before exercising jurisdiction, the Florida court must communicate with the New York court. In May 2017, the New York court declined to exercise jurisdiction, finding that Florida was a more convenient forum.[1] Following that ruling, the Orange County circuit court proceeded with its handling of the case.[2]

         At trial, Mother's counsel conceded that "jurisdiction has been established for the child as a resident of Florida." On appeal, despite that concession, Mother primarily challenges the authority of the Florida court to hear and decide the paternity action.[3]

         The UCCJEA addresses subject matter jurisdiction in child custody proceedings. §§ 61.502-61.542, Fla. Stat. (2017). Section 61.514 provides:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in s. 61.517, a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:
(a) This state is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within 6 months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person ...

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