Tennessee Court Must Consider Jurisdictional Issue in Child Custody Case, Appeals Court Holds

gavelMatters of custody and visitation can be contentious in any divorce proceeding. However, they become even more complicated issues when one or both of the parents end up moving to another state. In these cases, there is a special set of laws that determines which states have jurisdiction over the matter, but the analysis of the laws can be complex. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently examined an issue of custody involving several states. In Taylor v. McClintock, the appeals court ruled that Tennessee had jurisdiction to determine custody issues under the particular set of facts in the case.

The background of the case involved a parenting order that was entered in Florida. The parties had obtained their divorce in Florida, where the mother was designated as the primary residential parent of the parents’ only child. Shortly afterward, the father moved to Tennessee. The parenting order stated that, should the father relocate, he would get alternate parenting time consisting of one week per month. After several years’ time and a number of parenting disputes, the Florida court allowed the child to move to Tennessee in order to give the father “make-up” parenting time. At the same time, the child’s mother moved from Florida to Alabama. The Florida court, in granting the mother’s motion to relocate, stated that the father would be permitted to exercise the rights of a primary residential parent for the period of time in which the child resided with him.

The child lived in Tennessee with the father for six months, at which point the father petitioned a Tennessee court to modify the Florida parenting order. The father sought to be designated as the child’s primary residential parent. However, the Tennessee court held that it did not have jurisdiction to modify the Florida order, since Florida was the child’s home state and retained jurisdiction.

On appeal, the child’s father argued that the trial court erred in concluding that it did not have jurisdiction to modify the parties’ parenting order. Specifically, he argued that his child had lived in Tennessee for a period of six months, which made Tennessee the child’s home state. The appeals court looked to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which applies in cases of interstate custody issues. The appeals court noted that, at the time the father petitioned for modification, none of the parties were living in Florida. Likewise, there were no pending modifications or issues in the Florida court. Therefore, the state of Florida did not have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over the parties’ custody dispute.

The Court of Appeals also found that Tennessee was the child’s home state when the father initiated legal proceedings. The child had lived in the state of Tennessee for at least six consecutive months immediately before the father petitioned the court for modification. Therefore, under definitions found in the UCCJEA, the appeals court held that Tennessee had home state jurisdiction to make a custody determination in the matter. The court also noted that it appeared that none of the parties would even be returning to Florida, since the father resided in Tennessee and the mother resided in Alabama.

Since the appeals court held that the Tennessee trial court did in fact have jurisdiction, it reversed and remanded the case to the trial court to consider whether it would decline jurisdiction. Under the appropriate law, a court my decline jurisdiction if it is an inconvenient forum, or another state would be a more appropriate forum.

If you are dealing with child custody or visitation challenges, or need advice on any other related matter, contact the Nashville family law attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard. Our legal team can guide you through the process of dissolution with compassion and competence. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today by emailing info@mhpslaw.com, or call (615) 800-7096.

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