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Mitra v. Irigreddy

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 29, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs February 2, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-003134-14 Mary L. Wagner, Judge

         This appeal involves a contentious dispute over visitation and child support for the parties' minor child. Having carefully reviewed the voluminous record before us, we hold that the evidence supports the parenting plan determination and other rulings made by the court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Jennifer Sheppard, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Samrat Mitra.

          Margaret M. Chesney and Rebecca A. Bobo, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Suneetha Irigreddy.

          John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J. and Frank G. Clement, P.J., M.S., joined.



         I. BACKGROUND

         Suneetha Irigireddy ("Mother") and Samrat Mitra ("Father"), who are of Indian descent, were married in India in 2002. Mother and Father (collectively "the Parties") moved to North Carolina on a work visa for employment secured by Father. Stuti ("the Child") was born in February 2007 in North Carolina. Father continued working, while Mother and the Child traveled to India in May 2008. Father followed shortly thereafter when his work contract ended in June 2008. While in India, Mother and the Child stayed with her parents, while Father stayed with his parents.[1] The two families lived a significant distance apart. Father visited at Mother's home on occasion, while Mother and the Child visited Father on occasion. Father remained in India until November 2008, when he accepted an employment position in Canada. Mother followed shortly thereafter in December 2008; however, the Child remained in India with the maternal grandparents because the Parties had not yet established a home in Canada. The Child joined the Parties in June 2009, when she was two years old.

         The Parties then returned to the United States in January 2010 to maintain their immigration status. Mother accepted employment in North Carolina, while Father searched for employment for several months before eventually moving to Texas for a job opportunity in Fall 2010. He visited Mother and the Child twice in 2010, with the last visit occurring in December 2010. At that point, the marital relationship had deteriorated. Father returned to North Carolina in February 2011 in an attempt to visit the Child. He did not advise Mother of his intent, and he did not attempt to contact her. Instead, he waited outside of Mother's apartment with a gift for the Child. No visit occurred because they either were not home or were unaware of his presence. Thereafter, Father eschewed Mother's attempts to arrange visitation and advised her that he was "happy to be alone" and that he did not wish to receive further contact from her. At some point, Mother moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

         Father did not see the child from December 2010 until July 31, 2012, when he again appeared at Mother's apartment unannounced in Memphis. By that time, Father had filed for and obtained a divorce in Texas. Father was able to visit the Child; however, the visit did not go well given his long absence from her and failure to communicate while absent. Father returned to Texas. The Parties communicated via email but were unable to come to terms regarding future visitation. Father then sent an email in September 2012, which provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

Neither of you have to take the pain to let me meet your daughter, Stuti Irigireddy, [2] at your home in Tennessee, nor do you have to bring her here in Austin on the holidays. YOU CAN KEEP HER!
Thanks for everything, but after my last visit to Memphis, I've really changed my mind - Neither am I willing to go see your daughter Stuti Irigireddy again, nor am I willing to take her out anywhere.

         In April 2013, Mother took the Child to India to reside with the maternal grandparents, while Mother obtained and maintained employment in New Jersey. She visited every six months and spoke to the Child on a daily basis. Mother began custody proceedings while in India. She returned to the United States with the Child in February 2015, following Father's filing of a petition for custody and injunctive relief on July 18, 2014, in the Circuit Court for Shelby County. Upon their return, Mother was designated as the temporary, primary residential parent and was required to enroll the Child in school in New Jersey. The Parties were also ordered to attend counseling sessions in Tennessee to aid in the Child's reunification with Father.

         Meanwhile, Mother objected to the trial court's jurisdiction, citing the fact that neither party resided in Tennessee and that the Child had not resided in Tennessee since April 2013. The Parties later consented to the trial court's jurisdiction, and the court confirmed its subject matter jurisdiction over the pending custody and child support issues. Mother did maintain a request for transfer of jurisdiction following the resolution of the proceeding.

         The case proceeded to a hearing over the course of two days in January 2017, at which the Parties testified concerning their tumultuous relationship and their difficulty in reaching an agreement concerning Father's visitation. The Parties also submitted documentation establishing their income since their separation. The record reflects that Father maintained an income of approximately $110, 000 per year, while Mother maintained an income of approximately $98, 623 to $110, 000 per year from 2014 through 2017. The Parties each offered conflicting accounts of the other's attempt to facilitate or impede Father's participation with the Child. Father also claimed that the Child was not doing well in school, while Mother submitted documentation establishing that the Child had progressed and was in the process of overcoming the challenges of learning in the United States with English as her second language.

         Following the hearing, the court designated Mother as the primary residential parent and awarded Father with 100 days of co-parenting time, the majority of which was scheduled during the Child's breaks from school. The court also limited international travel to two weeks, absent permission from the other parent or the court, but allowed Mother to maintain possession of the Child's passport. The court ordered Father to pay child support at a rate of $935 per month and set his child support arrearage at $33, 298, in light of the Parties' agreement that Father had remitted some payment, beginning in 2015.[3] The court awarded Mother attorney's fees in the amount of $20, 000. Father did not object to the amount set by the trial court and waived a hearing on the issue. The court ordered Father to remit payment on the child support arrearage and attorney fee award at the combined rate of $750 per month until such time as the outstanding balances are fulfilled. Lastly, the court declined Mother's request for transfer of jurisdiction at the conclusion of the proceeding, explaining that jurisdiction would be evaluated in the event that either party needed a subsequent proceeding. Father filed this timely appeal.

         II. ISSUES

We consolidate and restate the issues raised on appeal as follows:
A. Whether the court erred in denying Mother's request to transfer jurisdiction to the Child's current home state ...

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