As a divorce attorney in Dallas, I often see clients struggling with the complex issues surrounding child custody, especially when the case involves international jurisdiction. In this article, I will break down the basics of subject-matter jurisdiction in Texas child custody cases.
Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code Governs Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
According to Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201(a), a court only has subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination if Texas is the child’s home state, if Texas was the child’s home state during the six months immediately before the commencement of the proceeding, if another state’s courts do not have jurisdiction as a home state, or if the child’s home state court has declined jurisdiction. It’s important to note that subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time and the parties cannot waive it.
A Mother’s Challenge of Trial Court’s Jurisdiction
In a recent case, a mother challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction after it issued temporary custody orders. The father had petitioned for divorce and requested a temporary custody order, while the mother filed a counterpetition and asked for a custody determination. After the trial court entered temporary custody orders, the mother argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over the custody case and asked for the dismissal of the temporary orders and the pending custody suit.
The trial court found that the child had never lived in Texas and had lived in Japan for the six months before the father filed his petition. The court concluded that Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code governed the subject-matter jurisdiction of the custody matter and found the child’s “home state” under Tex. Fam. Code § 152.105(a) was not Texas, but Japan. The court also determined that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination.
Appeals Court Affirms Trial Court’s Order
The father appealed, but the appeals court found that the trial court was correct in determining that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the initial custody determination. The court noted that a child’s home state is the state where the child lived with either a parent or person acting in that role for at least six consecutive months immediately before the custody proceeding commences. In this case, the father admitted that the child lived in Japan with her mother for the six months before he filed the divorce petition and there was nothing in the record indicating that Japan declined jurisdiction.
The father also argued that the mother invoked the trial court’s jurisdiction by participating in its hearings and requesting relief. However, the appeals court noted that subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be “invoked” through a parent’s actions and that nothing the mother did could invoke subject-matter jurisdiction in a court that did not have it under the statute.
Contact The Blacknall Firm
If you are facing a family law issue and need representation, contact the Blacknall Firm today. Our team of experienced family law attorneys is dedicated to helping our clients achieve the best possible outcome in their cases. Let us put our skills and knowledge to work for you.