Kulko v. Superior Court of Cal.

436 U.S. 84, 98 S. Ct. 1690 (1978)



The constitutional standard for determining whether the state may enter a binding judgment against a defendant is that the defendant have certain minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. An essential criterion in all cases is whether the quality and nature of the defendant's activity is such that it is reasonable and fair to require him to conduct his defense in that state.


A couple from New York got married in California in 1959 during the husband's three-day stopover while he was en route to overseas military duty. After the marriage and after the military duty, they lived in New York where they had 2 children. In 1972, the couple separated and the mother moved to California. Under a separation agreement executed by both parties in New York, the children were to remain with the father during the school year but during specified vacations with the mother. The father gave support amounting to $3,000. One day, the daughter asked if she could move to California with her mother, to which the father agreed. However, 2 years later the mother also arranged for the son to stay with her in California, this time without the consent of the father. The mother then brought an action against the father in California to establish the Haitian divorce decree as a California judgment, to modify the judgment so as to award her full custody of the children, and to increase the father's child-support obligations. The father, resisting the claim for increased support, appeared specially, seeking a motion to quash claiming that he lacked sufficient "minimum contacts" with the California State. The trial court denied the motion to quash. On appeal, the California Supreme Court concluded that where a nonresident defendant has caused an "effect" in the State by an act or omission outside the State, personal jurisdiction over the defendant arising from the effect may be exercised whenever "reasonable," and that such exercise was "reasonable" in this case. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Did California acquire jurisdiction over the father?




The Court determined that California state courts were constitutionally unable to exercise personal jurisdiction over the father as a nonresident, nondomiciliary parent of minor children domiciled within California, because the father lacked sufficient minimum contacts with California. By merely consenting to his children's living with the mother in contradiction of the parties' separation agreement, the father did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of California law. Particularly, because the action was domestic in nature, the father did not derive any commercial or financial benefit from his children's presence in California. Therefore, the father actions were not such that it was fair, just, or reasonable to require him to conduct his defense to the child support modification in California.

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