Molina v. Pineda, 1378-2021

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtKEHOE, J.
Decision Date07 June 2022
Docket Number1378-2021



No. 1378-2021

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 7, 2022

Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAD-21-02672

Kehoe, Nazarian, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.




Virgilio Antonio Mendoza Pineda ("Father") filed a petition pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. The petition named Maria Theresa Echeverria Molina ("Mother") as the respondent and asked the court to register and enforce an order issued by a Salvadoran court (the "Salvadoran Order") that purportedly granted Father access to the parties' minor child (the "Minor Child"). After Mother filed a motion challenging Father's requests, the court held an evidentiary hearing. Following the hearing, the court granted Father's request to register the Salvadoran Order, but the court refused to enforce the order on the grounds that Mother had not been properly served. Mother has appealed, and presents a single question for our review:

Did the trial court err in granting Father's request to have the Salvadoran Order registered in Maryland

We conclude that the trial court did not err and affirm the judgment.


The Minor Child was born in 2018 to Mother and Father. During that time, Mother and Father lived together in El Salvador. At some point, Mother filed a complaint in a Salvadoran court accusing Father of domestic violence. The parties eventually separated and moved to different addresses in El Salvador. The Minor Child remained in Mother's care.

In April or May of 2019, the Salvadoran court issued a temporary protective order against Father. A short time later, Mother and Father appeared in court for a hearing


regarding the Minor Child. Both parties were represented by counsel, and both parties, through their respective counsel, submitted evidence for the court's consideration. Also submitted for the court's consideration was a "psychosocial study" that had been prepared by "assigned professionals." On July 10, 2019, the Salvadoran court issued its order that, according to Father, granted him visitation with the Minor Child.

In November 2019, Mother and the Minor Child left El Salvador and moved to the United States, while Father remained in El Salvador.[1] Mother and the Minor Child eventually came to Prince George's County, Maryland, where they currently reside. In March 2021, Father filed, in the circuit court, a petition pursuant to the UCCJEA (the "UCCJEA Petition"), in which he sought to have the Salvadoran Order registered and enforced in Maryland.


This State adopted the Maryland UCCJEA "to govern child custody actions." Pilkington v. Pilkington, 230 Md.App. 561, 577 (2016). The UCCJEA establishes "systematic and harmonized approaches to urgent family issues in a world in which parents and guardians, who choose to live apart, increasingly live in different states and nations." Cabrera v. Mercado, 230 Md.App. 37, 73 (2016) (citations and quotations omitted). Two of the primary functions of the UCCJEA are to "deter[] parents from removing their children from a jurisdiction without consent" and to "[f]acilitate the enforcement of


custody decrees of other States." Pilkington, 203 Md.App. at 577-78 (citations omitted). Thus, we must apply the UCCJEA "with an eye toward disincentivizing the unlawful movement of children across state borders[.]" Id. at 578.

The UCCJEA is codified at § 9.5-101 et seq. of the Family Law Article of the Maryland Code. Relevant here are Fam. Law §§ 9.5-104 and 9.5-305. Section 9.5-104 provides, "[e]xcept as otherwise provided in subsection (c) of this section, a child custody determination made in a foreign country under factual circumstances in substantial conformity with the jurisdictional standards of this title must be recognized and enforced under Subtitle 3 of this title." Fam. Law § 9.5-104(b). Subsection (c) states that "[a] court of this State need not apply this title if the child custody law of a foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights." The statute defines "child custody determination" as "a judgment, decree, or other order providing for the legal custody, physical custody, or visitation with respect to a child." Fam. Law § 9.5-101(d)(1). That definition "includes a permanent, temporary, initial, and modification order." Fam. Law § 9.5-101(d)(2).

Under Fam. Law§ 9.5-305, parents or guardians are permitted "to register a foreign state's custody determination in Maryland[.]" Pilkington, 230 Md.App. at 593; see also, Fam. Law § 9.5-305(a) ("A child custody determination issued by a court of another state may be registered in this State[.]"). To do so, the parent or guardian must submit to the appropriate court:

(1) a letter or other document requesting registration;
(2) two copies, including one certified copy, of the determination sought to be registered, and a statement under penalty of perjury that to the best of the
knowledge and belief of the person seeking registration the order has not been modified; and
(3) except as otherwise provided in § 9.5-209 of this title, the name and address of the person seeking registration and any parent or person acting as a parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.

Fam. Law § 9.5-305(a).

Upon receipt of the required documentation, "the registering court shall: (1) cause the determination to be filed as a foreign judgment …; and (2) serve notice upon the persons named in subsection (a)(3) of this section and provide them with an opportunity to contest the registration in accordance with this section." Fam. Law § 9.5-305(b). "A person seeking to contest the validity of a registered order shall request a hearing within 20 days after service of the notice." Fam. Law § 9.5-305(d)(1). If such a hearing is held, the court must confirm the registered order unless:

(i) the issuing court did not have jurisdiction under Subtitle 2 of this title;
(ii) the child custody determination sought to be registered has been vacated, stayed or modified by a court having jurisdiction to do so under Subtitle 2 of this title; or
(iii) the person contesting registration was entitled to notice, but notice was not given in accordance with the standards of § 9.5-107 of this title, in the proceedings before the court that issued the order for which registration is sought.

Fam. Law § 9.5-305(d)(2).


Father's UCCJEA Petition and the First Translation of the Salvadoran Order

In his UCCJEA Petition, Father argued that the Salvadoran Order set forth a visitation schedule between him and the Minor Child and that it therefore constituted a "child custody determination" under the UCCJEA. Attached to Father's petition was a Spanish-language copy of the Salvadoran Order. Also attached was an English translation (the "First Translation") that included the following pertinent language:

Taking into account what it is oriented by the study in order not to violet [sic] the superior interest of [the Minor Child] and which mandates the article 12 letter "f" LEPINA, [2] and that literally says: The decision that it is made must be the one that guarantees or respects the most of the rights for a long period of time, and the one that restricts the least rights for the short possible period of time. The consideration of this principle is mandatory for all judicial authority, administrative and particular. In that sense, IT IS ORDERED AND ESTABLISEHD A REGIME OF RELATIONSHIPS AND DEALS between [the Minor Child] and her father Mr. VIRGILIO ANTONIO MENDOZA ECHEVERRIA in the following way: The paternal grandparents will pick up [the Minor Child], twice a month, at nine in the morning on Saturday, and they will give her back to the maternal grandparents on Monday at nine in the morning, that meeting will take place in front of the Church San Miguel Arcangel in the city of Ilobasco, beginning that regime on Saturday, July 20th, 201 [sic], before warning Mrs. MARIA TERESA ECHEVERRIA MOLINA and VIRGILIO ANTONIO MENDOZA PINEDA, that the order is strictly enforced, in the contrary case the relevant measures will take with the aim of not violent [sic] the rights of [the Minor Child].

Father asked the circuit court to register and enforce the Salvadoran Order pursuant to the UCCJEA. The court subsequently agreed, and the Salvadoran Order was registered. The court then sent Mother a notice stating that she had 20 days to contest the registration. After Mother filed a timely motion opposing the registration, the court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the registration was proper and whether the Salvadoran Order should be enforced.[3]

The Trial

At trial, Daniel Joya, a licensed attorney in El Salvador, was called as a witness by Father and was accepted by the trial court as an expert in Salvadoran family and constitutional law. During Mr. Joya's testimony, Father's counsel introduced two exhibits: a copy of the UCCJEA Petition, which included the First Translation as an attachment, and a Spanish-language copy of the Salvadoran Order, which included, as an attachment, a new English translation (the "Second Translation"). The Second Translation differed significantly from the First Translation and included the following language:

Ref.: Se-F-180-LCVI-2019 (X1)
For addition to the record of the case is the brief submitted by [attorney for

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