In re Adoption of K.C. (2016)

In Adoption of K.C. (2016), the Second District, Division Six, Court of Appeal held that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) does not apply to adoptions.

In 2012, K.C.’s biological parents divorced.  The New York divorce decree granted K.C.’s mother sole custody of K.C. and did not award visitation to K.C.’s father, who was ordered to pay $25.00 per month in child support.  K.C.’s mother testified that  New York court also granted her permission to relocate with K.C. to California.  Since moving to California, K.C.’s mother has not prevented K.C’s father from visiting K.C., but he has never visited.

K.C.’s mother’s husband petitioned the Superior Court to order a stepparent adoption of K.C.  Additionally, he petitioned that the consent of K.C.’s biological father not be required for the adoption, pursuant to Family Code section 8604(b)[when custody ordered to petitioning biological parent in an adoption proceeding and the noncustodial biological parent willfully fails for a period of one year to communicate with, and to pay for, the care, support, and education of the child when able to do so, then the noncustodial biological parent’s consent to the adoption is unnecessary], Alternatively, K.C.’s mother’s husband petitioned the juvenile court to declare K.C. free from K.C.’s father’s custody and control. 

The trial court found K.C.’s father failed to support or to have any meaningful contact with K.C. for well over one year, and that his consent to the stepparent adoption was not required.  The court also found that K.C.,’s father had abandoned the child and terminated his parental rights pursuant to Family Code section 7822.  K.C.’s biological father appealed, claiming the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to make orders under the UCCJEA.

In his appeal, K.C’s father relied on Family Code section 3423 (part of the UCCJEA adopted by the California legislature as Family Code section 3400 et seq.) which essentially clarifies which state has jurisdiction to make orders for child custody).  This statute provides that a California court cannot modify a child custody determination made by a court of another state unless a California court has  jurisdiction to make an initial determination under paragraph (1) or (2) of Family Code section 3421(a) and either of the following determinations is made:  (a) the court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under Family Code section 3422 or that a California court would be a more convenient forum under Family Code section 3427; or (b) a California court or a court of the other state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the other state.

While K.C.’s father’s reliance on Family Code section 3423 may have otherwise had merit, Family Code section 3403 (also part of the UCCJEA) expressly states that the UCCJEA does not govern an adoption proceeding.  Jurisdiction over an adoption proceeding is governed by Family Code section 9210.  The appellate court went on to discount K.C.’s father’s other argument regarding the termination of his parental rights – that the UCCJEA should be treated as a precursor to the adoption proceeding – by clarifying that while Family code section 7822(a)(3)[terminating parental rights] is not limited to adoption proceedings, here it is within context of an adoption proceeding.