Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Contested in Interstate Parenting Dispute in Shelbyville, Tennessee: Parker v. Parker

FactsMother and Father, the parents of one child, divorced in 2009. Mother was designated the primary residential parent, and Father received 86 days of parenting time.

A few years later, each parent petitioned to have the other held in criminal contempt. Father also asked that the parenting plan be modified.

After the first day of trial, Mother moved to have the case transferred to Georgia because she and the child had lived in Georgia for over seven years. (I guess the first day of trial didn’t go well.)

Her motion was denied.

Tennessee interstate parenting dispute

After three days of trial, Mother was found in contempt for denying Father his parenting time and making derogatory statements about Father in the child’s presence. Besides being awarded makeup parenting time, the trial court modified the parenting schedule to increase Father’s parenting time to 120 days. Mother was ordered to pay Father’s attorney’s fees of $25,000.

Mother’s contempt petition was dismissed.

Mother appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

A Tennessee court has subject-matter jurisdiction to modify a previous child-custody decision upon proof of a material change in circumstance. But if the child no longer resides in Tennessee, subject-matter jurisdiction can be lost.

A Tennessee court does not lose subject-matter jurisdiction merely because the child moves to another state.

Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a Tennessee court has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction to modify a prior child-custody determination unless:

  • substantial evidence is no longer available in Tennessee about the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships, or
  • a Tennessee court determines that the child and the child’s parents no longer reside in Tennessee.

This is a fact-sensitive inquiry.

The Court agreed that Tennessee retained subject-matter jurisdiction:

Here, Father exercised all of his parenting time in Tennessee. . . . And here we also have other evidence connecting [Child] to Tennessee. [Child] has two half-siblings, one step-sibling, and grandparents in Tennessee. She is active in sports in Tennessee. Her pediatrician is in Tennessee. She was covered by a Tennessee health insurance plan.

We further conclude that substantial evidence relevant to Father’s modification petition remained available in Tennessee. Father alleged that Mother denied him visitation and made derogatory comments about him in [Child’s] presence. Evidence about [Child’s] demeanor and interactions with both parents was available in Tennessee. All child exchanges, another important area of inquiry, occurred in Tennessee. The court was intimately familiar with these parents, having presided over numerous motions since the divorce. And while other evidence about [Child’s] activities originated in Georgia, we cannot say that substantial evidence was unavailable in Tennessee.

The trial court’s denial of Mother’s motion to change venue was affirmed.

Parker v. Parker (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, March 1, 2019).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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