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Published: Tuesday, 12/17/2013

Ruling returns custody of child to Ariz. mother

5-year-old staying with paternal grandfather in Ohio


COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that custody of a 5-year-old girl be returned to her Arizona mother, reversing a Sandusky County ruling that temporarily granted custody to the child’s paternal grandfather.

By a vote of 5-2, the court found that Sandusky County Juvenile Court failed to notify Arizona of its “temporary” order in the case, leaving the “temporary” custody situation open-ended.

“The juvenile court in Ohio, although it is aware of the Arizona filing, has apparently not communicated with the Arizona court to resolve the emergency, nor has it determined a period for the duration of the temporary order,” the court’s majority wrote. “The order states only that the grandfather is granted immediate custody ‘until a full and fair hearing may be held.’ That was a year ago.”

The ruling reversed not only the juvenile court but also the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals that rejected the mother’s argument that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction in what was an Arizona case.

The mother, identified only by the initials V.K.B. in the Supreme Court decision, was granted sole custody of the girl in 2009 in Ohio before she moved to Arizona. She returned to Ohio for a visit last year but abruptly had to go back to Arizona for a job interview. She left her daughter with her mother.

During her absence, the child’s paternal grandfather sought emergency temporary custody, and the Sandusky court granted it. The 6th District rejected her challenge that the juvenile court had acted illegally and said she should instead go through the normal appeals process.

“Even if the juvenile court eventually issues a final order, and V.K.B. appeals the case only to the court of appeals, it may take five years or more between the time custody was ‘temporarily’ moved from the child’s mother to a nonparent and the time the case is resolved,” the high court wrote.

“If the case is appealed here, it may take an additional year or more,” it wrote. “Instead of a toddler, (the child) J.B. will be 7, 8, or even 9 years old. The formative years she spent away from her mother can never be recaptured. This problem is particularly acute here, as J.B. has been diagnosed as autistic.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Lanzinger, and William O’Neill made up the majority. Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judith French dissented, but did not issue an opinion to explain their reasoning.

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