Subject-Matter Jurisdiction in Juvenile Court Questioned in Knoxville, Tennessee Dependency and Neglect Case: Thompson v. Thompson

March 6, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Father and Mother are the parents of Child. Shortly after they separated, Mother and Child moved from Tennessee to Massachusetts. Father was aware of the move and did not object to it.

One year later, Mother filed for divorce in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts court entered a temporary order granting Mother physical custody and allowing Father to have virtual parenting time thrice weekly. In addition, Mother and Father agreed that Father would have Child for two months in the summer.

A few weeks before Child was to return to Mother after spending the summer with Father, Father emailed Mother to tell her he enrolled Child in school in Tennessee. Mother contacted the school, showed them the order from the Massachusetts court, and the school unenrolled Child.

The day before Child was to return to Mother, she petitioned the Massachusetts court for Child’s immediate return. The following day, Father petitioned for emergency temporary custody in a Tennessee juvenile court alleging neglect and mistreatment of Child by Mother.

Father followed the order of the Massachusetts court and returned the Child to Mother.

The following month, Child’s guardian ad litem in the Tennessee emergency proceeding moved to dismiss Father’s petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because Child lived in Massachusetts and there was ongoing litigation in Massachusetts.

The juvenile court magistrate granted the motion to dismiss. Strike one!

Father appealed to the juvenile court judge, who affirmed the dismissal. Strike two!

Father appealed to the circuit court judge, who affirmed the dismissal. Strike three!

Father appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. Strike four!

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) governs jurisdiction between Tennessee and other states over child-custody proceedings.

The purpose of enacting the UCCJEA was to establish national standards regarding initial custody determinations, to specify the circumstances under which a state can change another state’s child-custody determination, to establish procedures to enforce both initial custody orders and modification orders, and to prevent contradictory orders by the courts of different states.

There are three ways a trial court may obtain jurisdiction over a custody matter: initial jurisdiction, continuing jurisdiction, or emergency jurisdiction.

Like the three courts before it, the Court found the Tennessee court lacked initial jurisdiction, continuing jurisdiction, and emergency jurisdiction:

Mother and Child moved to Massachusetts in September 2019 and have lived there continuously. Father continues to live in Tennessee and was aware of Mother and Child’s relocation to Massachusetts and made no objection to it. In fact, prior to the events giving rise to the present matter, Father participated in Massachusetts court proceedings by responding to Mother’s complaint for divorce and filing a counterclaim thereto in 2020. Moreover, Father voluntarily submitted himself to Massachusetts’s jurisdiction by further participating in court proceedings concerning custody of Child and even entered into a joint stipulation setting forth custody arrangements. Further, based on the record, Massachusetts has continuously exercised jurisdiction over Child by rendering orders relating to custody of Child. As such, we find no basis that Tennessee has initial jurisdiction regarding Child’s custody. We further find no support for the notion that Tennessee has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. Accordingly, the only basis upon which a court of this state could obtain jurisdiction over this custody matter would be emergency jurisdiction.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-219(a) provides that “[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.” Here, it is clear that Child was returned to Massachusetts and was no longer present in Tennessee. This is dispositive of the jurisdictional inquiry. Indeed, because Child was no longer in Tennessee, temporary emergency jurisdiction is not available in Tennessee pursuant to § 36-6-219(a). Rather, Massachusetts, where Child resides, would be the appropriate venue to exercise jurisdiction.

The Court affirmed the dismissal of Father’s petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Source: Thompson v. Thompson (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, January 30, 2023).

If you found this helpful, please share it using the buttons below.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction in Juvenile Court Questioned in Knoxville, Tennessee Dependency and Neglect Case: Thompson v. Thompson was last modified: March 5th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

Leave a Comment