Facts: Mother and Father were divorced in New Jersey. The divorce decree incorporated the parties’ agreement that Mother be awarded custody of the children and allowed to relocate to Tennessee with the children.
Six years later, Father sought to register the New Jersey divorce decree in Tennessee. Mother agreed.
Several months later, Father petitioned to modify the divorce decree to award him custody of the children, alleging several material changes resulting from Mother’s alleged “erratic and unexplainable behavior.”
The trial court granted Father’s petition and entered an order styled “Emergency Order” that awarded Father immediate custody of the children.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Interstate jurisdictional questions concerning the custody of minor children are governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), which was adopted by both Tennessee and New Jersey. The UCCJEA provides that a Tennessee court may not modify another state’s custody determination unless an emergency situation is present or the court has jurisdiction pursuant to § 36-6-216(a)(1) or (2) and
(1) The court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under § 36-6-217 or that a court of this state would be a more convenient forum under § 36-6-221; or
(2) A court of this state or a court of the other state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the other state.
After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:
The record reflects that New Jersey has not released jurisdiction and that Father presently resides in New Jersey; therefore, the court did not have jurisdiction to modify the foreign judgment pursuant to § 36-6-218. Accordingly, the court’s assertion of jurisdiction must have been grounded in § 36-6-219(a), which provides,
(a) A court of this state has temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is present in this state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.
The court’s one-page order did not contain any findings concerning an emergency situation that provided jurisdiction to modify the judgment…. Moreover, Father’s allegations did not contain a threat of “immediate mistreatment or abuse” that would support the exercise of emergency jurisdiction. Accordingly, we vacate the order modifying the judgment because the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to modify the judgment pursuant to the UCCJEA. Our holding does not impede the court’s ability to enforce the registered foreign judgment.
Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was reversed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.