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Hagans v. Hagans

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 5, 2018


          November 8, 2017 Session

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Franklin County No. CV-20095 Jeffrey F. Stewart, Chancellor

         In this divorce action initiated by Father, the chancery court adjudicated the divorce and entered a parenting plan proposed by Father, naming him as primary residential parent and establishing a residential parenting schedule for the parties' child; Mother had previously initiated a custody proceeding in Scotland. Mother moved to dismiss the Tennessee proceeding, contending that the Tennessee court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the divorce because the parties we not domiciled in Tennessee and did not have jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act to adjudicate the child custody matters. Upon Mother's appeal, we conclude that the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over the divorce but, due to the pendency of the proceeding in Scotland, did not have jurisdiction over the custody matters. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of divorce to Father, vacate the parenting plan and child support provisions of the final decree, and remand the case for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

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

          C. Suzanne Landers, Lucie K. Brackin, and Carrie E. Kerley, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rachel Wallock Hagans.

          Glenna M. Ramer, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Stephen T. Greer, Dunlap, Tennessee; and Donald Capparella, Nashville, Tennessee; for the appellee, Roger Chase Hagans.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Roger Hagans ("Father") and Rachel Hagans ("Mother") married in August 2011 in California; Mother gave birth to their son, Christopher, in December 2011. Shortly after Christopher's birth, Father, a member of the Marine Corps, was deployed for six months. During his deployment, Mother lived with her parents in Thousand Oaks, California. After Father returned from his deployment, the couple lived in Simi Valley, California, until January 2013, when they moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, so Father could complete his undergraduate degree at The University of the South, which he completed in 2015. Father was accepted into a masters degree program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and the family left Sewanee in June 2015 and visited family in Oklahoma and California over the summer. Father moved to Scotland in August 2015, and Mother and Christopher joined him in October. Father held a temporary student visa so he could pursue his studies, which was set to expire January 30, 2017; Mother's visa was derivative of Father's.

         The parties separated in February 2016 and maintained separate residences in Scotland; on April 14, Mother filed an "Initial Writ" in a court in Scotland, seeking an order permitting her to return to California with Christopher. On April 20, Father filed a complaint for divorce in Chancery Court of Franklin County, Tennessee, on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. At the same time, citing his "fear that without Court intervention [Mother] will take the minor child and flee to California, " Father filed a motion pursuant to Rule 65.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure seeking a temporary injunction requiring Mother "to return the minor child to the custody of the Plaintiff and to the jurisdiction of this Court and then to prohibit the Defendant from removing the child from the custody of the Plaintiff and from the jurisdiction of this Court." The court granted the injunction the same day and set a hearing for May 9 for Mother to "show cause why this Temporary Injunction shall not continue in effect during the pendency of this cause."[1] Father filed an amended complaint on May 2, and on May 6, Mother filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and to dissolve the temporary injunction. The motion was accompanied by an affidavit asserting various facts which Mother argued showed that Father was living in Scotland and was not domiciled in Tennessee.

         The show cause hearing was held on May 9; in light of the fact that the time for Father to respond to Mother's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction had not expired, the show cause hearing was rescheduled to July 8, to be held immediately after the hearing on Mother's motion. At the conclusion of the hearing on July 8, the court took the matter under advisement and rendered its decision in a telephone conference on July 26; the ruling was memorialized in an order entered August 11. Pertinent to the issues in this appeal, in its ruling the court: denied Mother's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction; held that Tennessee "has home state status" under the UCCJEA (the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act); and stayed proceedings pending a telephone conference pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-213 between the court and the "appropriate judicial official in Scotland."

         Mother's motion for permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure was denied, and on October 11, Father moved for a default judgment; the motion was granted by order entered November 4, and a hearing was set for December 12. Following the hearing, at which neither Mother nor her counsel appeared and at which Father and Christopher's nanny, Rachel Hawkins, testified, the court entered a decree of divorce and permanent parenting plan, which Mother appealed. By order entered March 28, 2017, this Court determined that the decree was not a final judgment because it did not address child support or Father's claim for attorney's fees. Father thereafter moved the trial court to amend the final decree to dispose of those matters, and on April 7, the trial court entered an Order setting child support to be paid by Mother at $1, 192.00 per month, attaching the child support worksheet as an exhibit to the final decree, and dismissing father's claim for attorney's fees. This appeal ensued.

         On July 10, 2017, this Court entered an order granting Father's motion to consider as a post-judgment fact the May 30, 2017 order of the court in Scotland, ruling that it would stay the action pending before it "on the grounds that there are proceedings with respect to the matters to which the application relates continuing outside Scotland, in Tennessee, and that it would be more appropriate for those matters to be determined in proceedings outside Scotland." In the same order, we granted Mother's motion to consider the fact that she was appealing the May 30 decision. A few days prior to oral argument, the parties advised this Court that the appellate court in Scotland had overturned the trial court's decision.

         Mother raises the following issues for our review:

I. Did the trial court err in failing to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-221 because a child custody proceeding had already been commenced in Scotland when Father filed his "Complaint for Divorce" seeking legal and physical custody of the minor child in the Chancery Court of Franklin County, Tennessee?
II. Did the trial court err in finding Tennessee was the home state of the minor child in contravention of the law in this state as set out in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"), as codified at ...

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