Under Pennsylvania law, which country has jurisdiction for a custody case?

In the case of S.K.C. v. J.L.C., 94 A.3d 402 (Pa. Super. 2014), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dealt with proper jurisdiction to modify a Pennsylvania custody order for a 14 year old girl. The child and both parties lived in Pennsylvania from her birth in 2000 until May 2012. In June 2012, the parties entered into a consent custody order in Pennsylvania. That consent order gave Father primary custody and also provided that Mercer County, PA was the proper venue for any further custody disputes. Father moved to Canada with the child in 2012.

Later in 2012, Mother filed a petition to modify the Mercer County custody order. In response, Father asked Pennsylvania to relinquish custody jurisdiction to Canada. In 2013, Pennsylvania modified the custody order and Father's jurisdiction appeal went to the Superior Court.

The Superior Court made the following findings:

1. The issue of subject matter jurisdiction is a de novo appeal from the trial court. In other words, the trial court need not "abuse its discretion" for an appeals court to overturn a subject matter jurisdiction determination in Pennsylvania. Instead, the matter is handled "brand new" by the appeals court without considering the lower court's determination.

2. The parties cannot determine jurisdiction by including a forum selection clause in the custody order by stating that future custody litigation will happen in Pennsylvania (for example). However, such a clause is one of eight factors in determining whether a forum is "convenient".

3. The time the custody complaint is filed is the relevant time period for determining whether there is a significant connection to Pennsylvania or substantial evidence is located in Pennsylvania. In this case, Mother exercised custody of the child the month before she filed for custody. Mother did not exercise custody when she actually filed her custody complaint, but that was only because of Father's contempt of court in keeping the child in Canada. So, the Court determined that Mother exercised jurisdiction in Pennsylvania when the case was filed because the court was not going to reward Father for his contempt of court.

4. The issue of a "convenient forum" under the UCCJEA is based upon an "abuse of discretion" standard. So, the trial court's finding that Pennsylvania was a convenient forum would only be overturned if the trial court abused its discretion. Applying the 8 factors of the UCCJEA and the abuse of discretion standard, the court upheld the trial courts determination that Pennsylvania was a convenient forum.

After all of that, the Superior Court held that the trial court's decision to keep the custody case in Pennsylvania was correct, even though Father and the child lived in Canada.