On April 9, 2021, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth District of California issued an opinion in the case of Jiaojiao Zhou and Sean Wang.
Ms. Zhou and Mr. Wang are the parents to a daughter born in 2013 in China. She lived primarily with her mother in China, and visited her father, who was working in California. In 2016, Mr. Wang asked the California court to accept temporary emergency jurisdiction to prevent the child from returning to China. The parties appeared and reached several agreements, including a schedule where the child returned to China and visited California. The parties acknowledged that China had jurisdiction pursuant to the UCCJEA. They agreed that they would register or mirror their California temporary custody order in China. When the parties reached a property settlement a few months later, they reaffirmed their temporary custody order, and reaffirmed that China had jurisdiction (in-artfully stating that it was the child’s habitual residence (which may be true, but the terminology under the UCCJEA is “home state”)). In 2018, a Chinese court issued a subsequent custody and divorce ruling after a trial. At the trial, Ms. Zhou told the court that Mr. Wang tricked her into agreeing that the child visit California and that they proceed with dissolution proceedings in California. At the end of trial, the Chinese court ordered that Ms. Zhou would have sole custody of their daughter, and Mr. Wang would have visitation on the third Saturday and Sunday of every month in China.
Ms. Zhou sought to register the Chinese custody order in California. Mr. Wang successfully fought that registration stating that the order was not final – he had appealed it in China, and so the execution of the order was stayed. Furthermore, the California trial court granted Mr. Wang’s request to enforce the temporary California custody order from 2016 for Ms. Zhou to renew the child’s U.S. passport and present the child in California for summer visitation.
It is important to point out that this case is not about jurisdiction. China is the child’s home state. China issued an order that is in the process of being appealed (at the time of the registration request). There is no exception to registration because the registering parent violated the terms of some prior order. This order was not registered because it was in the process of being appealed and was stayed. Until there was a superseding custody order from the courts of the child’s home state, California had the authority to enforce its own custody order.