RI Supreme Court Overturns Family Court Rulings

Anyone who has spent time in Rhode Island Family Court knows of the tragedies and heartbreak that accompany the adjudication of family life.  Many fathers in particular know of the harsh realities of Family Court.

This harsh reality was made apparent in a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court case – Jessica Beauregard v. Grady Samuel White – in which the Court not only tackled the complicated web of family law, but, in a 21-page opinion written by Justice Flaherty, overturned rulings by the Family Court that – for the last 7 years – had allowed a divorced woman and her two children to remain under the jurisdiction of the RI Family Court despite orders from a North Carolina Court that the family return to North Carolina, where the father lived.

The Supreme Court ruled that its analysis of the issues presented was governed by the UCCJA, the former statute that was in effect at the time that the plaintiff filed her complaint in the Family Court.  The Supreme Court held that the Family Court’s invocation of emergency jurisdiction was proper initially.  The Court further held, however, that thereafter, based on the fact that North Carolina had made an initial child-custody determination and based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the allegations were insufficient for the court to continue to exercise emergency jurisdiction.

The Court further held that without emergency jurisdiction, the Family Court could not otherwise exercise jurisdiction because North Carolina had issued a child-custody determination.  The Court explained that the Family Court should have stayed the proceedings, pursuant to the UCCJA, and communicated with the court in North Carolina.  After recognizing North Carolina’s continuing jurisdiction over the subject matter of the plaintiff’s complaint and owing full faith and credit to that state’s custody determination, the Supreme Court ordered that the Family Court dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint.

The Court further ordered the court to order the plaintiff to comply with the orders of the North Carolina court or obtain relief therefrom within thirty days.

More details of this case are available here in a recent Providence Journal story.

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