Tennessee Court Declines to Exercise Jurisdiction Over Custody Modification Issue

In some child custody cases, the parents reside in different states, which may complicate modifications to parenting plans and require changing jurisdictions. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently decided whether Tennessee was the appropriate forum to hear a father’s petition requesting a modification to the parties’ permanent parenting plan in the case of Kapustka v. Kapustka (Tenn. Ct. App. June 3, 2016).

In Kapustka, shortly after the parties were granted a divorce in Tennessee, the mother relocated with the child to Florida, and the father moved to Alaska. In response to the father’s petition, which was filed in a Tennessee court, the mother filed a motion requesting that the court find Tennessee to be an inconvenient forum and that it either dismiss the case or transfer it to Florida. The trial court ultimately dismissed the petition, finding that Tennessee was an inconvenient forum because none of the parties resided in the state and because the evidence necessary to resolve the issues would be unavailable in Tennessee. The father subsequently appealed the trial court’s decision.

In Tennessee, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) governs jurisdictional custody issues that concern multiple states. The purpose of enacting the UCCJEA was to establish national standards for jurisdiction regarding initial custody determinations, modification of child custody determinations by another state, and enforcement of child custody determinations, as well as to prevent contradictory orders by the courts of different states. Even if a trial court has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, the trial court may, at any time, decline to exercise that jurisdiction if it determines that Tennessee is no longer a convenient forum under the circumstances, and it may find that another state is a more appropriate forum.

The court considers all relevant factors in determining whether it is appropriate for another state to exercise jurisdiction, including statutory factors such as the length of time the child has resided outside the state, the distance between this state and the state that would assume jurisdiction, the financial circumstances of the parties, any agreement between the parties as to jurisdiction, the nature and location of the evidence required to resolve the pending issue, whether domestic violence has occurred, which state can best protect the interests of the parties and the child, and more.

On appeal, the father argued that he was not afforded an opportunity to be heard prior to the trial court’s determination that Tennessee was an inconvenient forum. The appeals court disagreed, finding that the father submitted information and a response to the mother’s objection for the trial court to consider, and he was provided an opportunity to argue his side at a hearing. The appeals court went on to find that the trial court correctly considered the relevant factors outlined above, and since the father’s complaints arose out of actions occurring in Florida, Tennessee was no longer a convenient forum to resolve the dispute. However, the court ruled that instead of dismissal, the father’s petition should have stayed until proceedings commenced in Florida.

Retaining the services of an experienced family law attorney who can inform you of your rights, as well as represent you in legal proceedings, may be beneficial. The Nashville divorce lawyers at MHPS offer dedicated representation to individuals in a wide range of family law issues, including marital separation, child support and alimony, custody matters, and more. To schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

Categories: Family Law
Tags: Child Custody, Divorce
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