Session November 7, 2017
from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. 13-JV-829
Wayne C. Shelton, Judge
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Vacated and Case Remanded
A. Turner, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sean C.
Christopher J. Pittman and Zachary L. Talbot, Clarksville,
Tennessee, for the appellee, Kayla L.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy J. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 ...