As part of the father’s job as a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense, the parties and their two children relocated from Maryland to Germany in January 2020, with a scheduled return date of January 2025. However, at some point, the parties became estranged and the Mother returned to the United States alone. In November 2021, the father filed for divorce and custody in Maryland, and mother counter-sued for the same. In December 2021, mother absconded with the children within Germany, and, in January 2022, the father secured an urgent order from the German courts for the mother to surrender the children to the father, which she did. That same month, the German courts then terminated its case, acknowledging the pending and first-filed custody case in Maryland.
On April 2022, the parties appeared before the Maryland courts to show cause why Maryland had custody jurisdiction. The Maryland court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over the one child, as Germany was its home state. It also concluded that it did have jurisdiction over the second child (where Maryland courts had previously resolved custody of this child as part of a child-in-need-of-assistance hearing, placing the child with the child’s current parents), but that it was going to decline jurisdiction since Germany was a more appropriate forum. The Appellate Court of Maryland affirmed.
The German court did not decline jurisdiction when it terminated its proceeding in January 2022. It merely terminated its proceedings, having learned of the Maryland court filing. After the Maryland trial court dismissed the custody matter before it in April 2022, the father refiled the German custody suit, and the German courts, learning that Maryland dismissed its case, assumed jurisdiction. The Maryland court did not initiate direct judicial communication with the German court during its jurisdictional analysis, but since Germany had assumed jurisdiction, that was harmless error. Further, the Maryland court was not persuaded by the mother’s argument that litigating custody in Germany provides the German courts with continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify its order in perpetuity. While it may, if the children or the father remain in Germany in the future, assuming everyone returned to Maryland, which is the plan, Maryland would become the new home state of the children, and Germany would have lost continuing exclusive jurisdiction (under the UCCJEA), with everyone having left.