An appeal court in New York has issued an important ruling on the issue of whether a woman who relocates to another state while she is pregnant is barred from having a future custody case being heard in the new location.
The Appellate Division, First Department of New York's Supreme Court rejected a lower Family Court's ruling that a woman's decision to move across the country while pregnant was tantamount to "appropriation of the child while in utero" and therefore could bar her custody case from being heard in her new location.
The ruling will presumably apply to international moves by pregnant women.
In the case, Ashton v. Bode, Nov. 14, 2013, a pregnant mother living in California relocated to New York to attend Columbia University. The Family Court referee found that the woman's "appropriation of the child while in utero was irresponsible" and "reprehensible" and warranted a declination of jurisdiction in favor of the California court on the basis that New York was an inconvenient forum. The appellate court flatly rejected that finding, stating that, “Rather, the mother's conduct at issue here amounts to nothing more than her decision to relocate to New York during her pregnancy.” The appeal court also rejected “the Referee's apparent suggestion that, prior to her relocation, the mother needed to somehow arrange her relocation with the father with whom she had only a brief romantic relationship.” It held that, “Putative fathers have neither the right nor the ability to restrict a pregnant woman from her constitutionally-protected liberty.”