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Posted by: Landry Butler on May 8, 2018

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Betsy G. Stibler, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellant, Danielle Smith Hance.

Attorneys 2:

Matthew B. Evans, Morristown, Tennessee and F. Clinton Little, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Matthew Brock Hance.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

The issue on appeal is whether the commencement of a dependency and neglect action in the juvenile court deprived the chancery court of subject matter jurisdiction to rule on a pending motion to modify a parenting plan. Shortly after Father filed his petition to modify the parenting plan in the chancery court, the Department of Children’s Services filed a dependency and neglect petition in the juvenile court. After the juvenile court held a preliminary hearing on the dependency and neglect petition and assumed jurisdiction, the chancery court modified the parents’ child support obligations and awarded the father the federal income tax exemption for the child. Months later, the mother filed a motion to vacate the chancery court’s judgment on the basis it was void ab initio for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The chancery court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-103 vests juvenile courts with exclusive original jurisdiction over dependency and neglect proceedings and, once a juvenile court has exercised jurisdiction in a dependency and neglect proceeding, its exclusive jurisdiction continues until the case has been dismissed, the custody determination is transferred to another court exercising domestic relations jurisdiction, or a petition for adoption is filed. Because none of the jurisdiction exceptions had occurred prior to the chancery court modifying the parenting plan, the chancery court’s order was void ab initio for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the chancery court’s order modifying the parenting plan is hereby vacated.