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State ex rel. Schrita O. v. Robert T

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 16, 2017

STATE EX REL. SCHRITA O.
v.
ROBERT T.

          Assigned on Briefs October 2, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Shelby County No. Z4680 Dan H. Michael, Judge

         This is an appeal from the juvenile court's order establishing paternity and retroactive child support, for a child who was born in 1996 and reached majority during the course of these proceedings. In 2014, with the assistance of a Tennessee Department of Human Services Title IV-D Staff Attorney, the child's mother filed a UIFSA petition in the Juvenile Court of Shelby County to establish paternity and an initial child support order and to recover retroactive child support for her son. Genetic testing confirmed Father's parentage, and the trial court ordered Father to pay retroactive child support in the amount of $127, 530.00. Father timely appealed. For the following reasons, we affirm in part and vacate in part.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed in Part, Vacated in Part and Remanded

          Bryan R. Huffman, Covington, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert T.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and Alexander S. Rieger, Deputy Attorney General, for appellees, Schrita O. and State of Tennessee.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty, J., joined. Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., concurring in part and dissenting in part.

          OPINION

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2014, Schrita O.[1] ("Mother, " or "Appellee"), a resident of Mississippi, initiated these proceedings in accordance with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA") to establish paternity and an initial child support order and to recover retroactive child support for her child, Shamar O., born November 18, 1996. Mother's petition indicated that Robert T. ("Father, " or "Appellant") was Shamar O.'s putative Father, and that she was Shamar O.'s biological mother and sole physical caretaker. Attached as an exhibit to Mother's petition is a "Decree Appointing General Guardian and Granting Letters of Guardianship" from the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi that awarded guardianship of Shamar O. to his maternal grandfather ("Grandfather") Luster O., Jr. shortly after his birth with both parents' consent.

         With the assistance of a Title IV-D attorney, [2] Mother filed a petition to establish paternity and support for Shamar O. in the Juvenile Court of Shelby County. The juvenile court ordered Father to submit to genetic testing, and the test revealed a 99.99% statistical probability that Father was Shamar O.'s biological father.

         On January 25, 2016, after several continuances, including a continuance to allow Father's attorneys to conduct discovery, a hearing on the petition was held before a Magistrate of the Juvenile Court. In written findings entered on February 24, 2016, the Magistrate found that Father had an obligation to support the child and ordered Father to pay prospective child support in the amount of $550.00 a month and retroactive child support of $9, 900.00.[3] Father timely filed a request for rehearing before the presiding juvenile court judge.[4]

         On November 16, 2016, a hearing was conducted before a Special Judge of the Juvenile Court who had been appointed by the Juvenile Court Judge to hear the case. While both parents testified, they offered conflicting testimony regarding whether Grandfather or Mother served as Shamar O.'s physical custodian during his childhood. However, the testimony is undisputed that Father never had visitation with or provided monetary support for Shamar O. to either Mother or Grandfather. On November 28, 2016, the juvenile court entered a final order setting aside the Magistrate's order. In its order, the juvenile court specifically found Father to be "the father of the child" and ordered Father to pay, inter alia, [5] $127, 530.00 in retroactive child support.

         Father timely appealed the retroactive child support award.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         Father raises the general issue of whether the trial court erred in setting child support pursuant to the UIFSA. However, we perceive that Father raises the following six issues, which we have reordered and reworded as follows:

I. Whether the juvenile court had subject-matter jurisdiction to establish Shamar O.'s paternity and enter an initial support order.
II. Whether the juvenile court's order lacks sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its finding that Mother was Shamar O.'s physical custodian or caretaker.
III. Whether the evidence preponderates against the juvenile court's finding that Mother was the child's physical custodian or caretaker.
IV. Whether Mother lacked standing to petition the juvenile court to establish paternity and set initial support for Shamar O.
V. Whether the case should be dismissed because Grandfather was not joined as a party.
VI. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in calculating the parties' parenting time on the child support worksheets.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In an appeal from a bench trial, we review the trial court's factual findings de novo upon the record. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). We presume that the factual findings of the trial court are correct, unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. Id. However, we review questions of law de novo, with no presumption of ...


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