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Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Jul 5, 2016

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Theodore R. Kern, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, William R. Woodcock.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Rachel E. Buckley, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee ex rel. Barbara E. Catalano.

Judge(s): FRIERSON

In this post-divorce child support case, we granted interlocutory appeal to determine whether the Knox County Fourth Circuit Court (“trial court”) erred by finding that the mother was entitled to ongoing and/or retroactive child support from the father for the parties’ adult disabled child. In October 2001, the mother had been granted a default divorce judgment by the Rutherford County Circuit Court (“divorce court”) upon constructive notice by publication to the father. As to child support for the parties’ only child, who was then seventeen years old, the divorce court reserved the issue pending personal service of process upon the father. In March 2014, the State of Tennessee, acting on behalf of the mother, filed a petition to set child support. Prior to the petition’s filing, no child support obligation had been set. Following a hearing, the child support magistrate recommended that the trial court consider the reservation of child support to be a prior child support order and find that it could exercise jurisdiction to set child support. Anticipating an appeal, the magistrate declined to set the amount of the father’s child support obligation. On appeal to the trial court judge, the trial court affirmed the magistrate’s recommendation. Upon the father’s application, the trial court and this Court, respectively, granted permission for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. Having determined that any portion of the divorce judgment concerning child support is void ab initio due to the divorce court’s lack of personal jurisdiction over the father, we conclude that the divorce judgment contains no valid child support order. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-101, we further determine that the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to set the father’s child support obligation for the disabled adult child. We therefore vacate the trial court’s finding regarding subject matter jurisdiction and dismiss the petition.