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Hance v. Hance

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 8, 2018

MATTHEW BROCK HANCE
v.
DANIELLE SMITH HANCE

          Session: March 13, 2018

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamblen County No. 2016-CV-209 Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor

         The issue on appeal is whether the commencement of a dependency and neglect action in the juvenile court deprived the chancery court of subject matter jurisdiction to rule on a pending motion to modify a parenting plan. Shortly after Father filed his petition to modify the parenting plan in the chancery court, the Department of Children's Services filed a dependency and neglect petition in the juvenile court. After the juvenile court held a preliminary hearing on the dependency and neglect petition and assumed jurisdiction, the chancery court modified the parents' child support obligations and awarded the father the federal income tax exemption for the child. Months later, the mother filed a motion to vacate the chancery court's judgment on the basis it was void ab initio for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The chancery court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-103 vests juvenile courts with exclusive original jurisdiction over dependency and neglect proceedings and, once a juvenile court has exercised jurisdiction in a dependency and neglect proceeding, its exclusive jurisdiction continues until the case has been dismissed, the custody determination is transferred to another court exercising domestic relations jurisdiction, or a petition for adoption is filed. Because none of the jurisdiction exceptions had occurred prior to the chancery court modifying the parenting plan, the chancery court's order was void ab initio for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the chancery court's order modifying the parenting plan is hereby vacated.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Vacated

          Betsy G. Stibler, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellant, Danielle Smith Hance.

          Matthew B. Evans, Morristown, Tennessee and F. Clinton Little, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Matthew Brock Hance.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano Jr. and John W. Mcclarty, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         Matthew Brock Hance ("Father") and Danielle Smith Hance ("Mother") divorced in August 2016 in the Hamblen County Chancery Court. The final decree of divorce incorporated a permanent parenting plan, which designated Father as the primary residential parent of their minor child, granted Mother parenting time equal to that of Father, provided for joint decision-making, and allowed each parent to claim the child on his or her federal income tax return in alternating years.

         On December 1, 2016, Father filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Hamblen County to modify the permanent parenting plan, alleging that there had been a material change in circumstances that warranted a suspension of Mother's visitation, designation of Father as the sole decision-maker, and permitting Father to claim the child on his federal income tax every year.

         On the same day, the Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed a dependency and neglect petition in the Juvenile Court of Hamblen County to have Mother's parenting time suspended or supervised. On December 14, the juvenile court held a preliminary hearing, assumed jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect action, and ordered that Mother have nine hours of supervised parenting time per week.

         Five days after the juvenile court assumed jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect action, the chancery court held a hearing on Father's Petition to Modify the Permanent Parenting Plan and issued an order, stating in pertinent part:

As a result of the Juvenile Court's Orders [reducing Mother's parenting time] Father shall claim the minor child…on the Federal Income Tax Exemption every year beginning 2016 until such time as this Court orders otherwise.
Mother shall pay Father child support in the amount of $256.00 per month, in accordance with the child support guidelines (child support worksheets ...

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