SERGIO E. HERRERA, Appellant,
SANDRA VILLANEDA, Respondent.
that Benton County was an inconvenient forum for a parenting
dispute involving one of Sergio Herrera's and Sandra
Villaneda's children, the superior court declined to
exercise jurisdiction despite Washington's exclusive,
continuing jurisdiction over the child under the
WUCCJEA. Sergio Herrera appealed, unsuccessfully
moving this court to stay the superior court's order.
Without the stay, proceedings to determine a parenting plan
for the child proceeded in an Oregon court and were resolved.
RCW 26.27.521, we accord full faith and credit to an order
issued by another state consistent with chapter 26.27 RCW. In
cases like this, the decision on a motion to stay is often
critical, since resolution elsewhere of the child custody
dispute will render the merits of the declination decision
moot. This is the intended result under the UCCJEA,
which never denies a parent a forum but strives to avoid
protracted jurisdictional disputes and relitigation. Mr.
Herrera's remedy, if dissatisfied with the Oregon
court's orders, is to appeal them in Oregon. We affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Herrera and Sandra Villaneda have two children together.
Their older child, a son, was born in May 2006. The parties
were not married at the time of the birth, and within a
matter of months the State filed an action in Benton County
to establish paternity. The judgment and order determining
parentage in that action was entered in March 2007 and
established that Washington was the "home state"
for the boy under chapter 26.26 RCW, that Mr. Herrera was his
biological father, and that Ms. Villaneda would have primary
parties married in 2011, while both still resided in
Washington. In 2013, Ms. Villaneda and the parties' then
7-year-old son moved to Hillsboro, Oregon, with Mr.
Herrera's permission, expecting Mr. Herrera to follow.
Mr. Herrera changed his mind and stayed in Washington, but
Ms. Villaneda and the son continued to reside in Oregon.
parties' second child, a daughter, was born in April
2014. Although a resident of Oregon at the time, Ms.
Villaneda returned to Kennewick for her daughter's birth.
After the birth, the daughter lived continuously with her
mother in Oregon.
December 2014, Ms. Villaneda filed for legal separation from
Mr. Herrera in Oregon. She asked the Oregon court to enter
child custody orders addressing both children. Mr. Herrera
was served with pleadings in the Oregon action in early
addition to responding to the Oregon proceeding in February
2015, Mr. Herrera commenced his own action in Benton County a
month later, petitioning for entry of a residential
schedule/parenting plan for his son. He relied for the
Washington court's exclusive, continuing jurisdiction on
the earlier-entered judgment and order. Mr. Herrera did not
seek a residential schedule/parenting plan for Ms.
Villaneda's then 11-month-old daughter in the Benton
County action. He questioned at the time whether he was her
father and filed a contemporaneous Benton County action to
de-establish parentage. That action was soon dismissed on the
basis that Washington had no jurisdiction over Ms.
Villaneda's daughter. Custody of the daughter was
addressed by the Oregon court, which determined that Oregon
was her home state and had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction
over her custody.
Villaneda moved the Benton County court to dismiss Mr.
Herrera's petition on the basis that Benton County was an
inconvenient forum. In a June 2015 order, Commissioner Joseph
Scheider denied her motion as improper procedure, pointing
out that Washington had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction
over the boy that it had not declined to exercise. The
superior court denied Ms. Villaneda's motion to revise
the court commissioner's decision.
Villaneda then pursued proper procedure, moving the court to
decline to exercise its jurisdiction because of the
inconvenience of the forum. As one basis for the motion, she
pointed out that before Mr. Herrera filed his petition she
had asked the Oregon court to make parenting provisions that
would apply to both children. In a responsive declaration,
Mr. Herrera argued that the court should not base its
decision on the fact that the Oregon court had jurisdiction
over visitation with Ms. Villaneda's daughter, since she
"may or may not be my daughter. She was conceived after
our separation, when Sandra was seeing other men."
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 257. He stated that
testing was in process to determine the girl's parentage.
motion to decline jurisdiction was argued in August, and in
an oral decision delivered on August 13, 2015, Commissioner
Schneider explained why eight statutory factors did or did
not weigh in favor of declining jurisdiction of parenting
issues involving the parties' son. Addressing Ms.
Villaneda's argument that having different courts
establish parenting provisions for the two siblings presented
inconvenience, the commissioner stated:
There's been no establishment of paternity . . . if the
father is determined not to be the father of the youngest
child then that becomes a moot issue okay. So we don't
have to try to have ...