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In re Arabella L.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 28, 2017

In re ARABELLA L.

          Session November 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. 13-JV-829 Wayne C. Shelton, Judge

         Three years after the juvenile court in Tennessee approved a parenting plan for a child, the child's father filed a petition to modify custody, alleging a material change in circumstances. The mother, who had filed a modification petition in Alabama, requested that the Tennessee court communicate with the Alabama court to determine which court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). The Tennessee court, after communicating with the Alabama court, determined that Alabama was a more convenient forum, declined to exercise jurisdiction, and dismissed the father's petition. On appeal, the father argues that the Tennessee court failed to allow the parties access to a record of its communication with the Alabama court or an opportunity to present evidence before making its decision. Because we conclude that the juvenile court abused its discretion in declining to exercise jurisdiction without allowing the parties an opportunity to present evidence, we vacate the court's decision and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Vacated and Case Remanded

          Stacy A. Turner, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sean C.

          Christopher J. Pittman and Zachary L. Talbot, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kayla L.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy J. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE.

         I.

         Kayla L. ("Mother") gave birth to Arabella L. after her relationship with Sean C. ("Father") had ended. Shortly after the birth, Father filed a petition to establish parentage and obtain parenting time in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County, Tennessee. Mother admitted that he was Arabella's biological father, stipulated to the jurisdiction of the Tennessee court, and requested permission to relocate to Alabama to recuperate from the birth. On May 6, 2013, the juvenile court issued a parentage order and allowed Mother to move to Alabama.

         The juvenile court subsequently approved an agreed parenting plan for Arabella. The parenting plan named Mother primary residential parent and awarded the parents equal parenting time. Under the plan, Mother and Father exchanged custody every two weeks and made all major decisions regarding Arabella jointly.

         On September 29, 2016, Mother filed a petition in the Circuit Court for Butler County, Alabama, to modify the Tennessee parenting plan based on a material change in circumstances. A week later, Father filed his own modification petition in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County, Tennessee, also alleging a material change in circumstances.

         Mother then filed a motion requesting that the Tennessee court conduct a telephone conference with the Alabama court to determine appropriate jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-6-201 to -243 (2017). While it is apparent that the Tennessee court granted the motion, no order was ever entered.

         On March 6, 2017, counsel for both parties appeared before the Tennessee court seeking information on the court's communication with the Alabama court. The Tennessee court announced from the bench that the case "went to Alabama" because "it was most convenient." The Tennessee court then dismissed Father's modification petition. The Tennessee ...


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