By: Kevin W. Ku, Esq.

In a recently published case, M.A.P. v. E.R.A., the Appellate Division held that a non-resident father who had no relevant contact to New Jersey is not subject to the jurisdiction of New Jersey courts. 

In M.A.P., the parties engaged in a sexual relationship in the State of New York that resulted in the birth of a child in the State of New Jersey. At the time of conception, which occurred in New York, the mother lived in New Jersey, but the nonresident father did not. When the mother subsequently filed a paternity action in New Jersey, the father filed a motion to dismiss the action based in part on the fact that New Jersey did not have personal jurisdiction over him, meaning it did not have the legal authority to compel him to appear or participate in a New Jersey court action. The trial court denied the father’s motion, resulting in his subsequent appeal.

In addressing this issue, the Appellate Division had to determine whether New Jersey’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act’s (UIFSA) long arm statute applied to a nonresident who had no relevant contact to New Jersey. Specifically, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.129(a), the Legislature set forth seven instances when New Jersey can exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident, which are as follows:

  1. The individual is personally served with a summons or notice within this State;
  2. The individual submits to the jurisdiction of this State by consent in a record, by entering a general appearance, or by filing a responsive document having the effect of waiving any contest to personal jurisdiction;
  3. The individual resided with the child in this State;
  4. The individual resided in this State and provided prenatal expenses or support for the child;
  5. The child resides in this State as a result of the acts or directives of the individual;
  6. The individual engaged in sexual intercourse in this State and the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse; or
  7. There is any other basis consistent with the constitutions of this State and the United States for the exercise of personal jurisdiction.         

In M.A.P., the Appellate Division focused on subsections 5 and 7 of the statute. As it relates to subsection 5, and from a public policy standpoint, the Appellate Division did not believe that the Legislature enacted this subsection to create personal jurisdiction in New Jersey simply because one party was a New Jersey resident when the child was conceived in some other state or country. The Appellate Division used the example that if the mother traveled to Alaska and had a relationship with an Alaskan who had never left the state, could that person be compelled to defend a suit in New Jersey simply because, at the time of conception, he knew that the mother was a New Jersey resident? The Appellate Division’s answer to that question was no and defined this subsection as a far more limited basis for personal jurisdiction. The analysis would be focused on the nonresident’s affirmative conduct after the child’s birth. In this case, it would require proof that the father’s actions or conduct caused the child to be a resident in New Jersey.  That was not the case here as the mother was already a New Jersey resident.    

As it relates to subsection 7, the focus is on whether the nonresident’s contact with New Jersey helped support the claim of general jurisdiction and, if not, whether the non-resident had contacts with New Jersey that related to this particular matter that would justify the finding of specific jurisdiction. The mother relied on the facts that included text messages sent between the parties, a letter written by the father and sent to the mother’s New Jersey address, and letters from father’s attorneys. She argued that these were enough to show that father availed himself to the jurisdiction, however, this was ultimately rejected by the Appellate Division. The mother further argued that the nonresident father visited her in New Jersey once, which was disputed by the nonresident father, but the Appellate Division rejected that argument concluding that one single visit could not support the finding that a court should have personal jurisdiction over the nonresident. When determining whether jurisdiction over a nonresident applies under this subsection, the Court must consider the quality of the non-resident’s relationship to the forum and the litigation. In this particular case, the Appellate Division did not find that there was jurisdiction over the nonresident in this subsection. 

Based on the analysis above, the Appellate Division ultimately found that New Jersey did not have personal jurisdiction over the nonresident father.     

If you are dealing with an ex-partner who lives outside of New Jersey and have questions about your ability to file a court action against him or her, contact the experienced team at Lyons & Associates, P.C. to learn more about the applicable jurisdiction laws in New Jersey. Contact us online or call us today at (908) 575-9777 to schedule a free consultation.