Facts: In divorce, Father was named primary residential parent for Children. Mother was ordered to pay child support. Some time after divorce, trial court granted Father’s petition to relocate to Arkansas with Children. Years later, Mother filed a petition to modify her child support obligation but she filed it in Tennessee. Mother also filed a petition for contempt alleging Father was interfering with Mother’s co-parenting time. Father entered a limited appearance to transfer the action to an Arkansas court. The Tennessee trial court ruled that Arkansas had jurisdiction. Mother appealed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Arkansas was clearly Children’s “home state” as defined by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which defines “home state” as “the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six (6) consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding.”
Even if Children acquired a new home state, Tennessee still retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction, so long as
[a] court of this state determines that neither the child, nor the child and one (1) parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent have a significant connection with this state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships.
The Court applied the facts to the law as follows:
[T]he only connection the children in this case have with Tennessee is through parental visitation. The affidavits in the record show that when the Conover children visit their Mother, they also see their grandmother and other relatives.
Nonetheless, the UCCJEA gives the court that made the initial custody decision the authority to determine when its exclusive, continuing authority over custody has ended. This court has characterized that authority as”a right of first refusal.”
Such a formulation implies that the trial court can exercise a certain degree of discretion when determining whether to retain or to relinquish jurisdiction of a custody matter when another state is also a legitimate candidate for the exercise of jurisdiction. After thoroughly examining the record in this case, and in light of the liberal construction the court is authorized to apply to the Act under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-202 in order to promote its purposes, we find that the trial court did not err in this case when it exercised its discretion to transfer jurisdiction of custody matters to the Arkansas court.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.