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Bradford v. Fuller

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

April 3, 2015

Robert Andrew Bradford
v.
Jenny Lynne Fuller

Appeal from Tallapoosa Circuit Court (DR-13-900033)

THOMAS, Judge.

Robert Andrew Bradford ("the father") appeals from a judgment of the Tallapoosa Circuit Court awarding custody of the parties' child ("the child") to Jenny Lynne Fuller ("the mother").

The only issue raised on appeal is whether the Tallapoosa Circuit Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the child-custody proceedings pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("the UCCJEA"), codified at § 30-3B-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975; therefore, a detailed recitation of the facts is not necessary. The child was born in Alabama on December 7, 2009. The parties to this appeal were never married. The record indicates that the parties began cohabiting in Alexander City around the time the child was born. In mid-July 2012, the parties and the child moved from Alexander City to Petal, Mississippi, for the father to attend college and also to work for the child's paternal grandfather. The parties and the child lived with the child's paternal grandparents for one month in Mississippi before moving into an apartment. The mother, taking the child with her, left Mississippi and returned to Alexander City on January 3, 2013; the mother and the child remained in Alabama and did not return to Mississippi.

On February 25, 2013, in response to a petition filed by the father, the Chancery Court of Forrest County, Mississippi ("the Mississippi Court"), entered a temporary order ("the Mississippi order") awarding the parties joint legal and physical custody of the child. The father, on February 26, 2013, filed in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court, Dadeville Division ("the Dadeville court"), a verified petition to enforce the Mississippi order and to request emergency physical custody of the child. The Dadeville court entered an order on February 27, 2013, registering the Mississippi order, and it also issued a writ of assistance instructing that the child was to be delivered to the father. On that same day, the mother filed in the Dadeville court a motion seeking to set aside the orders registering the Mississippi order and issuing the writ of assistance; that same day, the Dadeville court entered an order staying enforcement of its previous orders.

Also on February 27, 2013, the mother filed in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court, Alexander City Division ("the trial court"), a petition for custody of the child. The Dadeville court entered an order on March 11, 2013, transferring the father's petition to the trial court, which consolidated it with the petition filed in the trial court by the mother. The trial court entered an order on March 22, 2013, stating that, after holding a hearing, it had determined that Alabama was the child's home state, determining that the Mississippi court did not have jurisdiction over the child, and dismissing the father's petition to enforce the Mississippi order. After the entry of the trial court's order, the father filed an answer to the mother's petition and a counterclaim for custody on April 4, 2013; the mother answered the father's counterclaim on April 5, 2013. On May 23, 2013, the trial court entered a pendente lite order, incorporating an agreement of the parties that, in pertinent part, awarded each party physical custody of the child on a rotating weekly basis.

The trial court held a trial on February 18 and 26, 2014, after which it entered a judgment on February 27, 2014. In its judgment, the trial court awarded the parties joint legal custody of the child, awarded the mother sole physical custody, awarded the father standard visitation, and ordered the father to pay monthly child support. The father filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the trial court's judgment on March 31, 2014, in which he again argued, among other things, that Alabama was not the child's home state.[1] The trial court denied the father's postjudgment motion on June 4, 2014. The father filed a timely notice of appeal to this court on July 15, 2014.

The father's only argument on appeal is that the trial court committed reversible error when it determined that it had subject-matter jurisdiction over this action involving an initial custody determination.

"'"[S]ubject-matter jurisdiction may not be waived; a court's lack of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by any party and may even be raised by a court ex mero motu."' S.B.U. v. D.G.B., 913 So.2d 452, 455 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005) (quoting C.J.L. v. M.W.B., 868 So.2d 451, 453 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003)). Questions of law, such as whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction, are reviewed de novo. BT Sec. Corp. v. W.R. Huff Asset Mgmt. Co., 891 So.2d 310 (Ala. 2004)."

K.R. v. Lauderdale Cnty. Dep't of Human Res., 133 So.3d 396, 403-04 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013).

"'[T]he [UCCJEA], codified at Ala. Code 1975, § 30–3B–101 et seq., controls decisions regarding whether a court of this state has jurisdiction to make a child-custody determination or to modify another state's child-custody determination. M.J.P. v. K.H., 923 So.2d 1114, 1116–17 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005). A "child-custody determination, " as defined in the UCCJEA, includes any judgment providing for the legal or physical custody of a child or providing visitation with a child. § 30–3B–102(3). A "child-custody proceeding" is defined in the UCCJEA to include not only divorce actions involving the custody of a child, but also "neglect, ... dependency, ... [and] termination of parental rights" actions in which the issue of child custody is addressed. § 30–3B–102(4).'

"R.W.[ v. G.W.], 2 So.3d [869, ] 871 [(Ala. Civ. App. 2008)]."

J.D. v. Lauderdale Cnty. Dep't of Human Res., 121 So.3d 381, 384 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013). Mississippi has also adopted the UCCJEA, codified at Miss. Code. Ann. § 93–27–101 et seq.

Section 30-3B-201, Ala. Code 1975, sets forth when an Alabama court has jurisdiction to make an ...


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