Kulko v. Superior Court of California
436 U.S. 84, 98 S.Ct. 1690, 56 L.Ed.2d 132 (1978)
Ezra and Sharon were New York
residents. They got married in California, went back to New York and
lived happily for 13 years, having two children. Then they separated.
The couple had a legal
separation agreement written up and signed in New York, giving custody of
both kids to Ezra, and allowing some visitation rights and some child
support to Sharon.
Sharon moved to California
after getting a quickly ex parte
divorce in Haiti. When one of her kids came to visit, Sharon secretly
sent a plane ticket and got the second kid, then went to a California
Court and asked them to award her full custody and force Ezra to pay child
Ezra made a special
appearance and made a motion to
He argued that California
did not have personal jurisdiction
(aka in personam)
jurisdiction over him, and therefore did not have the authority to make
him pay child support or take away his kids.
Ezra was not a California
resident, and did not have "minimum contacts" with the State.
See International Shoe
Co. v. Washington (326 U.S. 310
The Trial Court found they had
in personam jurisdiction. Ezra
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that by allowing his kids to visit, Ezra had "caused an effect in
the State" that gave them in personam jurisdiction.
The California Supreme Court
affirmed. Ezra appealed.
The California Supreme Court
found that by allowing his one kid to live with her mother (even
temporarily), Ezra had "purposefully availed himself of the benefits
and protections of the laws of California."
The Court found that this
didn't apply to the second kid, who Sharon snatched without Ezra's
permission, but it was fair and reasonable to adjudicate both children's fates at the same time.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court agreed
with International Shoe that in
order for California to have jurisdiction, the defendant "must have
certain minimum contacts with the forum State such that the maintenance
of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and
The Court found that Ezra
had done nothing to avail himself in California and therefore there was
no in personam jurisdiction.
The Court found that if they
were to find that just sending your kids to visit their mother gave a
State in personam jurisdiction,
people would be discouraged from entering reasonable visitation
That's bad public policy.
The Court noted that
California did have a legitimate interest in protecting resident children
and in facilitating child support actions, but that wasn't not enough to
make California a 'fair forum.'
Sharon was not without
options. She could have gone to New York and litigated the issue there.
The basic point of this case
is that a person must have minimum contacts with a State or at least have purposefully availed
themselves of the laws of that State
in order for that State to have jurisdiction over them.
But remember, if you ever
actually go to that State and get
served there, the State automatically gets jurisdiction. Also, if you
make a general appearance
in a court in that State, you have consented to jurisdiction.
See Burnham v. Superior
Court (495 U.S. 604 (1990)).