In re the Parenting of MMK

In re the Parenting of MMK, 2016 MT 81 (April 5, 2016) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly concluded that Montana is an inconvenient forum for determining whether Ambrose has a parental interest in MMK under § 40-7-108, MCA.

Short Answer: Yes.

Affirmed

Facts: MMK was born in Great Falls in 2011. Her father has not been involved in her life. When MMK was one, her mother, Kutil, executed a six-month power of attorney in favor of Ambrose, and gave MMK to Ambrose for temporary care. When the power of attorney expired, Kutil and Ambrose disagreed about who should have custody of MMK, and Ambrose refused to return the child. In June 2013 Kutil regained physical custody of MMK from Ambrose with the help of volunteer attorneys, law enforcement, and DPHHS. Kutil and her husband, who is not MMK’s father, moved to Oklahoma and took MMK with them. They have lived in Oklahoma continuously since then. Kutil is a stay-at-home mom, caring for MMK and a new baby. Kutil petitioned for child support and a parenting plan against MMK’s biological father in Oklahoma courts.

In June 2013, Ambrose filed a petition for parental interest determination in Cascade County, as well as a motion for interim custody pending the outcome of the litigation. In March 2014, the standing master held a hearing and found no emergency situation sufficient to award Ambrose interim custody. The master then held a subsequent hearing on pending motions, including Kutil’s request that the district court decline jurisdiction. The master concluded the district court had jurisdiction because MMK lived in Montana when the petition was filed. The master determined the dispute should be determined in stages, the first being whether Ambrose was entitled to a parental interest. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: Kutil objected to the master’s decision and the district court held a hearing in July 2015. The district court adopted the master’s findings but reversed several conclusions of law, holding that Montana was an inconvenient forum and should decline to exercise jurisdiction. Ambrose appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The issue here is not whether Montana has jurisdiction, but whether he district court abused its discretion in determining that it should decline to exercise that jurisdiction. Section 40-7-108(2) lists several factors to consider in litigation involving minor children. Here, the district court weighed these facts and determined that all of the applicable factors weigh in favor of Montana declining to exercise jurisdiction.

Montana and Oklahoma have both adopted Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Ambrose contends the district court’s decision is an abuse of discretion because Oklahoma does not have a statute allowing a non-relative to assert a parental interest, and accuses Kutil of forum shopping. However, the parties disagree about Ambrose’s legal contention, and the record does not support a finding of forum shopping. The choice of law issue is not before the Court. The district court did not abuse its discretion.