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Parenting Plan Modifications

April 18, 2019

Parenting Plan Modifications

Case: Lewis Alvin Minyard v. Laura Nicole Lucas and Bradley James Cox v. Laura Nicole Lucas
Facts: Both of these cases involve a post-divorce custody dispute between Mother and her two ex-husbands. In each case, the Fathers filed petitions for ex parte emergency relief and modification of the permanent parenting plan in Circuit Court, but did not file dependency and neglect petitions in Juvenile Court. Two years later, Mother filed motions to dismiss both petitions as void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the petitions included allegations of dependency and neglect, which implicated the exclusive original jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The trial court denied Mother’s motion in both cases.

Appellate Decision: The intermediate court reversed and remanded. The court noted a tension between statutes giving juvenile courts “exclusive original jurisdiction” over dependency and neglect actions and other statutes authorize circuit courts and chancery courts to grant divorces and to exercise jurisdiction over subsequent child custody determinations “as the exigencies of the case may require.” Reviewing the petitions, the intermediate court held both Fathers’ petitions contained allegations that “were tantamount to allegations of dependency and neglect” and triggered the “exclusive original jurisdiction of the juvenile court.”

Review Granted: February 22, 2019. The Supreme Court’s order stated it was granting review on the following issue: “Whether, in the absence of a dependency and neglect proceeding in juvenile court, a petition for modification of a parenting plan filed in a post-divorce custody dispute in circuit or chancery court that alleges facts which may fit the statutory definition of dependency and neglect but does not seek such a determination or remedy nonetheless divests the jurisdiction of the circuit or chancery court and invokes the exclusive original jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-103.”

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court will affirm the reversal for the reasons explained in the intermediate court’s opinions.