Marriage of Sampley

Marriage of Sampley, 2015 MT 121 (May 5, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court by refusing to hold a hearing prior to issuing its order; and (2) whether the district court erred by deciding it lacked jurisdiction over the parenting and custody issues.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.


Facts: Matthew and Michelle Sampley married in January 2010 in Canada, and moved to Alaska in October 2010. Cael was born in Alaska in 2011. The family moved to Washington in October 2011, and to Billings in September 2013.

In October 2013, Michelle and Cael moved to Canada to stay with Michelle’s parents. They extended their stay until the end of December 2013. Matthew visited them in Canada for five days in November and 10 days in December. During the December visit, Michelle told Matthew she and Cael would stay in Canada through March 2014. In February 2014, she traveled to Billings and removed her and Cael’s personal belongings without Matthew’s knowledge, and returned to Canada.

Matthew petitioned for dissolution in May 2014, and asked the court to determine parenting and custody issues. Michelle responded to the petition and moved to dismiss all parenting and custody issues, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court granted Michelle’s motion to dismiss, holding Montana was not Cael’s “home state” under § 40-7-201, MCA, and that it therefore lacked jurisdiction over the parenting and custody issues. Matthew appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The district court was not required to hold a hearing before dismissing for lack of jurisdiction. There was no dispute between the parties regarding the material facts, which were presented in affidavits and pleadings. The district court did not abuse its discretion. Matthew’s due process rights are not implicated, as the district court made no decision regarding the care and custody of Matthew’s child.

(2) The parties agree that Montana courts can exercise jurisdiction over parenting and custody issues only if Montana is the child’s “home state.” They also agree that Montana is a home state only if the child has at some point lived in Montana for at least six months. Matthew concedes Cael has never been present in Montana for a six-month period, but contends that temporary absences from the state should be counted as time lived in the state.

The Court agrees that temporary absences are included in time “lived in” Montana, and interprets that phrase for the first time, using a totality of the circumstances approach. The Legislature’s intent in adopting the UCCJA and UCCJEA definition of “home state” was to create a bright-line rule that a state is a child’s home after the child is integrated into a community of the state, and that such integration usually occurs after six months. Thus, an absence is not temporary if the “character of the absence would make it unreasonable to assume that a child would integrate into a community” during those times the child was present in Montana. Requiring temporary absences to be measured against the purposes and assumptions of the legislative rule seems to provide as precise a rule as is possible.

Here, Cael was present in Montana for one month at most, and his temporary absence ended when Michelle moved her and Cael’s belongings back to Canada and told Matthew she did not intend to return. Cael therefore lived in Montana for no more than five months.