Tennessee Court of Appeals Overturns Child Support and Custody Orders for Lack of Jurisdiction

If you are initiating a divorce action, it is important to file your petition in a court with jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter.  In an April 5, 2018 case, the Court of Appeals addressed the issues surrounding jurisdiction over the parties’ Tennessee child custody arrangement.  The parties in the case had resided in Scotland, California, and Tennessee during their five-year marriage and had a child together.passport

After the parties married in California, the wife lived there with her parents while the husband was deployed.  The couple later moved to Tennessee with their son so that the husband could finish school, and finally, they moved to Scotland, where the father held a temporary student visa.  The wife initiated a child custody proceeding while in Scotland.  The husband then filed a Tennessee divorce action in the chancery court, which adjudicated the divorce.  The court named the husband as the primary residential parent and established a parenting schedule.

On appeal, the wife argued that the Tennessee court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the divorce and child custody matters because the parties were not domiciled in Tennessee.  The appeals court first resolved the question of whether one or both parties was a resident or domiciliary of Tennessee, in order for the court to have jurisdiction over the divorce.

The appeals court concluded that the only reason the parties relocated to Scotland was for the husband to participate in the masters program at the university, and there was no evidence that either of them intended to establish a new domicile in Scotland or any place other than Tennessee.  Accordingly, it affirmed that the Tennessee court had jurisdiction over the parties’ divorce action.

For child custody matters, the trial court’s exercise of jurisdiction is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).  Jurisdiction under the UCCJEA attaches at the commencement of a proceeding, or the filing of the first pleading in a proceeding.  In Tennessee, the courts treat a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States for the purposes of applying the UCCJEA.

In the Scotland proceedings, the wife sought a residence order and authorization to relocate to California for a month with the child.  The court in Scotland stayed its proceedings after the divorce decree was entered and the appeal was filed in Tennessee. However, the appeals court noted that the two custody proceedings were being litigated at the same time, contrary to the UCCJEA.  Since the proceeding concerning the custody of the child had first been initiated in Scotland, the appeals court concluded that the Tennessee court did not have jurisdiction over the custody proceedings initiated by the husband.  The appeals court thus vacated the parenting plan and child support obligations.

At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our Nashville divorce attorneys can assist individuals who are seeking honest and compassionate legal advice.  We handle all types of family law cases, such as spousal and child support disputes, protection orders, parenting time and custody issues, and more.  To arrange a free consultation with an experienced attorney, call our office at (615) 800-7096 or complete the contact form on our website.

More Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Affirms Visitation Schedule and No-Fault Divorce on Appeal, Tennessee Attorneys Blog, published June 20, 2017

Tennessee Court Affirms Partial Award of Ex-Husband’s Military Retirement Benefits to Ex-Wife in Post-Divorce Case, Tennessee Attorneys Blog, published April 20, 2017