I live in California and have 3 children with my girlfriend. We both have lived in Ca for the past 16 months my 4 year old is enrolled in school here. She has taken the children to her fathers in Arizona and will not bring them back. I have been paying her the entire time she has been gone for 6 weeks. I have asked her to return them to CA to their home and she refuses. She has told me that the only way I can see my children is with supervised visits in AZ. I support my family, tm not a drug addict or have any criminal history. I have a huge support team here with family and she is currently living with her father who is on disability and has a limited income. She has no income. What is my legal right?
1 Answer from Attorneys
You have a difficult path ahead, but one that is pretty legally simple. The law is very clear that the state of a child's primary residence for the last six months retains jurisdiction over custody of the child. So as long as you act before six months from when she left, California has jurisdiction over the children. You are going to have to file a case for a paternity judgment (which will be automatic if you did the proper paperwork when each child was born; you may have to prove paternity if it was not), and then for child custody and support orders and judgment. Once paternity is established, the case will proceed basically identically to a custody dispute in a divorce. The rights and court proceedings are the same. In that proceeding you can obtain a court order that the children be returned to California pending a final custody, visitation and support ruling. You will then have to request the AZ courts to recognize the CA order (which requires proper paperwork but is pretty much automatically granted). The AZ authorities will then enforce the order, up to and including law enforcement officers taking the children from her and returning them to CA if it goes that far. After that, it will be you and her duking it out in court the same as divorcing parents over custody, support and visitation, including whether they will live in CA or AZ. You have the upper hand in that, but there are no guarantees. The court must determine what is in the best interests of the children. As I hope you can readily see, this is not a place for self-help. You need a lawyer ASAP.