Bristol, Tennessee Divorce Dismissed for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction: Pitera v. Pitera

November 11, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband and Wife, the parents of one child, married and lived in Connecticut for 11 years.

In December 2018, they agreed that Wife could move to Tennessee with their child, and Wife did so.

In May 2019, Wife initiated divorce proceedings in Tennessee. The complaint alleged that both parties had resided in Tennessee during the six months before the complaint was filed.

Tennessee subject matter jurisdiction

Husband, who had never lived in or even traveled to Tennessee, was served with Wife’s complaint in Connecticut.

Husband moved to dismiss Wife’s complaint because the Tennessee court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.

Husband failed to appear at the scheduled trial date, so his motion was denied. Wife was granted a divorce, and a parenting plan was entered providing for the custody, visitation, and financial support of their child.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Although Husband argued the lack of personal jurisdiction on appeal, the Court raised subject-matter jurisdiction on its own.

Subject-matter jurisdiction vests a court with authority to adjudicate a particular case. Without subject-matter jurisdiction, a court cannot enter a valid, enforceable order.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-104(a) says that a party may file for divorce in Tennessee where the acts giving rise to the divorce occurred outside Tennessee when the party resided outside Tennessee only if one party lived in Tennessee at least six months before the complaint was filed. Only then does a Tennessee court have jurisdiction to consider a divorce.

The Court found this prerequisite to jurisdiction absent:

It matters not that Wife was a resident of Tennessee for “approximately” six months. The statute specifies a six-month period, and here, Wife was not a Tennessee resident for the requisite six-month period prior to filing her complaint for divorce. Wife filed her complaint on May 21, 2019, clearly before the trial court could exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The statute plainly requires that at least one party “reside[] in the state six (6) months next preceding the filing of the complaint.” Moreover, in her brief, Wife states “[b]y Husband’s own admission, the relevant marital conduct took place in Connecticut.” Consequently, it also appears that the acts giving rise to the divorce occurred wholly in Connecticut, prior to Wife moving to Tennessee. As a result, Wife would need to have met the jurisdictional requirements set forth in § 36-4-104(a) for the trial court to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over the divorce action. Because Wife did not meet the statutory requirement at the time of the filing of her complaint for divorce, the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case.

Lacking subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and dismissed the case.

Pitera v. Pitera (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, November 6, 2020).

I hope you found this helpful. If you know others who could benefit from it, please spread the word using the sharing buttons below.

Bristol, Tennessee Divorce Dismissed for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction: Pitera v. Pitera was last modified: November 11th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

Leave a Comment