Case Conclusion Date: 07.06.1999
Practice Area: Child Custody
Outcome: My client (the Mother) prevailed
Description: Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, In re: Dammarell v. Dammerell, Unreported Opinion, 07/06/1999 Issue was whether state of Washington, which had proper jurisdiction over the parties' child custody dispute, should decline to exercise it's jurisdiction if state of Montana was a more convenient forum in which the dispute should be litigated. Mother (my client) had been named primary residential parent (custodial parent) at the time of 1992 Washington divorce. She and the child relocated to Montana in 1995. In 1997, Father petitioned for a change of custody, which was granted. Mother did not appeal the decision. The minor child, a teenager, refused to relocate back to Washington to reside with Father. At one point, she ran away from Father's home in Washington and hitch-hiked back to Mother's home in Montana. Later, when Father drove to Montana to retrieve her, the child ran away and did not return until she learned Father had left town. Ten months passed, and in 1998, the Father and his new spouse arrived unexpectedly at the Montana home of the child and child's Mother, removed the child by force, drove her to Oregon, and enrolled her in a locked-down outdoor school for defiant and troubled teens. Mother filed an action in Montana, and the Montana court ordered Father to return the child to Mother. Father did not return the child but instead filed an action in Washington, requesting Mother's visitation rights be restricted and subject to supervision. At one point, even the Oregon court began embroiled in the dispute. Father defended against Mother's action in Montana, arguing that Montana did not have proper jurisdiction. Mother defended against Father's action in Montana, arguing that while Washington had initial jurisdiction, Washington should decline in favor of Montana being a more convenient forum, or in the alternative, if Washington retained jurisdiction custody of the parties' teenage daughter should be reverted to her. At the initial hearing, a King County Court Commissioner, denied Mother's motion to decline jurisdiction, dismissed Mother's petition for change of custody, and restricted Mother's contact. Mother filed for revision, however, which the trial judge granted in December 1998. The Court agreed that Washington had jurisdiction under the UCCJA, but declined to exercise that jurisdiction in favor of Montana, which the Court agreed was the more convenient forum. The Court revised the Commissioner's order on jurisdiction, vacated all of the other orders, including the order restricting Mother's contact. Father appealed the ruling to the Washington State Court of Appeals. The appeal was heard July 1999. The Court of Appeals, affirmed the trial court's decision and accordingly my client prevailed. Father subsequently filed an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, which declined to hear his appeal. The litigation proceeded in the Montana court. Meanwhile, the daughter (who had been retrieved by force from the Mother's home by Father) eventually again ran away from Father's home in Washington and made her way back to Mother's home in Montana, and until reaching the age of majority declined to cooperate with Father's attempt to persuade her to return to Washington either to reside or visit.