The Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston affirmed the trial court in Cortez v. Cortez on December 29, 2020, which found that Texas no longer had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify its custody order.
Mr. and Ms. Cortez are parents to two sons, both born in Texas, but who moved to Mexico a few months after their father filed for divorce and custody in Texas in 2012. The 2013 custody order made the parents joint managing conservators and ordered Ms. Cortez to return with the children to Texas by August 1, 2014. The custody order confirmed that the children’s home state was Texas (Mr. Cortez commenced the child-custody proceedings two months prior to Ms. Cortez relocating the children to Mexico).
Apparently, Ms. Cortez failed to return the children to Texas in August 2014. In August 2015, Mr. Cortez filed a motion to modify the custodial arrangement in Texas, arguing Texas had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction pursuant to the UCCJEA. Ms. Cortez sought to dismiss the filings for lack of jurisdiction, arguing virtually every argument she could think of, many of which are irrelevant to the jurisdictional issue at the heart of this appeal. Some of the relevant facts Ms. Cortez did argue were that her original move to Mexico was at Mr. Cortez’s request, and he agreed to let her continue living there with the children past the August 2014 return date. She also argued that Mr. Cortez rarely, if ever, followed through with exercising his access to the children, and she and the children lacked substantial contacts with Texas.
In May 2016, Mr. Cortez filed a Hague return petition in Mexico. In March 2016, Ms. Cortez filed suit in Mexico to terminate Mr. Cortez’s parental rights. In December 2016, Ms. Cortez filed something in Mexico that had the effect of staying the Hague proceeding. In August 2018, the Texas family court declined custody jurisdiction on the basis of an inconvenient forum. It further declined jurisdiction in an April 2019 order, saying it no longer had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction. An appeal followed.
“The fact that one parent continues to reside in Texas, standing alone, is not determinative and does not support an exercise of exclusive continuing jurisdiction.” The children’s only remaining connection to Texas was the fact that their father resided in Texas, and they have seen him only twice in Texas, both times after he filed his motion to modify. The children’s entire lives, families, schooling, healthcare, etc. was in Mexico and had been for many years.