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Determining the proper jurisdiction in a divorce and child custody dispute where parties have ties t New York and the United Kingdom. William L. v. Therese L. 66 Misc. 3d 1228 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2020)


The doctrine of forum non conveniens, a Latin term meaning “forum not convenient,” allows a court to decline jurisdiction over a case if another forum would be more appropriate for the resolution of the dispute. In New York, this doctrine applies to various legal matters, including divorce and child custody disputes, when issues of jurisdiction and forum selection arise.

In divorce and child custody cases, forum non conveniens may come into play when one party argues that another jurisdiction would be more suitable for resolving the dispute. Factors considered by the court include the parties’ residences, the child’s welfare, the location of evidence, financial circumstances, and court familiarity with the case.

For example, if a couple has ties to both New York and another country, and the child primarily resides outside New York, a court may find that the other jurisdiction is more appropriate for adjudicating custody matters. Similarly, if evidence and witnesses are predominantly located in another jurisdiction, it may be more convenient for the case to be heard there.

Additionally, the court may consider the impact on the parties and the child in determining the most appropriate forum. This could include assessing the financial burden of litigating in New York versus another jurisdiction, as well as the potential disruption to the child’s life if forced to participate in proceedings in an unfamiliar location.

Background Facts
The parties, originally from England, married in 2014 and have one daughter, E.L., born in London in 2011. While the couple initially lived in New York due to William’s job, Therese and their daughter moved back to the United Kingdom in December 2018 after William faced domestic violence charges. Despite William’s claims of steady residence in New York, his frequent international travels complicated the matter.

Determining the most suitable jurisdiction for resolving the divorce and child custody matters, considering the parties’ ties to both New York and the United Kingdom.

After careful consideration, the court invoked the doctrine of forum non conveniens, declining jurisdiction over the case. The court stayed the action pending the commencement of child custody and divorce proceedings, or a combined action, in the United Kingdom.

Central to the court’s analysis was the residency and citizenship status of the parties involved. While the plaintiff, William L., asserts ties to New York, including a leased apartment and employment, his frequent international travel and verification of documents in London raised questions about the extent of his residency in New York. Conversely, the defendant, Therese L., and their daughter are British citizens residing in the United Kingdom. This geographical disparity weighed heavily in favor of the United Kingdom as a more convenient forum, particularly considering the hardship and practical challenges associated with litigating in New York for the defendant and the child.

The court also underscored the significance of the child’s residence and well-being. Despite the child’s previous residency in New York, her current settled status in the United Kingdom, along with the absence of valid United States visas for her and her mother, emphasized the impracticality of uprooting her from her established environment. The court recognized the importance of minimizing disruption to the child’s life and ensuring her emotional stability, further supporting the conclusion that the United Kingdom was the most suitable jurisdiction for addressing custody matters.

Moreover, the court considered the issue of domestic violence, noting the existence of a two-year order of protection against the plaintiff based on domestic violence-related charges. This factor, combined with the defendant’s assertion that she fled New York to escape domestic violence, underscored the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of the parties involved, particularly the defendant and the child.

Financial considerations, the availability of witnesses and evidence, and the familiarity of the courts with the facts and issues were also taken into account. The court found that England’s courts would be equally competent to address the issues at hand and that conducting proceedings there would not impose an undue burden on either party.

The court’s decision to stay the action pending the commencement of proceedings in the United Kingdom was informed by a comprehensive assessment of the relevant factors, prioritizing the best interests of the child, the safety of the parties involved, and the practical considerations associated with litigating in each jurisdiction. By declining to exercise jurisdiction and deferring to a more suitable forum, the court ensured that the proceedings would be conducted in a manner conducive to fairness, efficiency, and the overall well-being of the parties and the child involved.

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