APPEAL FROM THE TENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF NATCHITOCHES, DOCKET NO. 85, 251, DIV. B HONORABLE DEE A. HAWTHORNE, DISTRICT JUDGE
David C. Hesser Hesser & Flynn, A Limited Liability Partnership COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Kristi Michelle Witten Chamberlin
William D. Dyess The Dyess Law Firm COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Daniel Kade Chamberlin
Court composed of John D. Saunders, James T. Genovese, and Phyllis M. Keaty, Judges.
JAMES T. GENOVESE JUDGE
At issue in this appeal is whether Louisiana has jurisdiction to make an initial determination of child custody in light of the mother's allegation that Texas, not Louisiana, is the home state of the minor child. After the trial court entered judgment in May 2014 granting the father sole custody of the minor child, the mother filed the instant appeal wherein she contests the trial court's October 2012 ruling that Louisiana has subject matter jurisdiction to decide custody. The mother argues that the trial court erred in ruling that Louisiana is the home state of the minor child pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), La.R.S. 13:1801 through La.R.S. 13:1841, and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), 28 U.S.C. §1738A. For the following reasons, we affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Daniel Kade Chamberlin (Mr. Chamberlin) instituted this matter on April 23, 2012, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, by filing a Petition for Divorce and Child Custody. According to his petition, Mr. Chamberlin married Kristi Michelle Witten Chamberlin (Ms. Witten) "on May 5, 2011, and established a matrimonial domicile in Natchitoches Parish. Of the marriage[, ] one child was born, namely Jack Eric Chamberlin [(Jack)] age 8 months." The petition alleged that Mr. Chamberlin and Ms. Witten "separated on or about April 22, 2012, with [Ms. Witten] absconding to Texas with [Jack.]" Mr. Chamberlin sought joint custody of Jack with himself being designated as the domiciliary parent and with Ms. Witten having reasonable visitation.
On May 25, 2012, Mr. Chamberlin filed a Motion to Appoint Special Process Server to effectuate service upon Ms. Witten. This order was signed May 31, 2012. On May 30, 2012, Mr. Chamberlin filed a First Amending and Supplemental Petition for Divorce. On June 25, 2012, a Motion and Order to Appoint Curator was filed. The court-appointed curator filed an Answer to Petition for Divorce and Child Custody on July 3, 2012. A hearing in this matter was set for July 31, 2012.
On July 31, 2012, Ms. Witten appeared with retained counsel and filed two pleadings in open court: (1) an Objection to Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Request to the Court to Decline Jurisdiction; and, (2) an Exception of Vagueness and Request for Stay Pursuant to La.R.S. 13:1821(B) & 28 U.S.C. §1738A. Ms. Witten alleged that Louisiana is not Jack's home state according to the UCCJEA or the PKPA. She argues that Texas is Jack's home state; therefore, jurisdiction to decide custody is not proper in Louisiana. According to Ms. Witten's pleadings, she and Mr. Chamberlin "lived together in Houston[, ] Texas[, ] in early 2011 when [she] became pregnant. It was agreed that [she] would travel to Louisiana to marry [Mr. Chamberlin.]" She denied living in Louisiana. Instead, it is her contention that she lived in "Richmond, Texas[, ] with [Jack] and has resided there with [him] since his birth on September 1[, ] 2011."
Mr. Chamberlin also filed two pleadings in open court on July 31, 2012: (1) a Second Amending and Supplemental Petition and Motion for Ex Parte Order of Custody; and, (2) his Affidavit attesting to facts supportive of his assertion that Louisiana has jurisdiction to decide child custody pursuant to the UCCJEA in compliance with La.R.S. 13:1821. Mr. Chamberlin alleged "a change in circumstances" since his initial filing, thereby necessitating an ex parte order granting him sole custody. According to Mr. Chamberlin's motion, Ms. Witten was involved in an automobile accident "on June 4, 2012, in Richmond, Texas, which subsequently resulted in [her] being charged" criminally for drug possession, and "the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services initiated an investigation of [Ms. Witten] on the basis of alleged abuse or neglect of [Jack]."
The record reflects that the trial court received evidence relevant to whether Louisiana has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination over the course of three nonconsecutive days-August 22, 2012, September 24, 2012, and October 26, 2012. On August 22, 2012, Ms. Witten filed her Affidavit for UCCJEA Information, wherein she attested to facts supportive of her assertion that Louisiana lacks, or that Texas has, jurisdiction to decide child custody pursuant to the UCCJEA in compliance with La.R.S. 13:1821.
On September 24, 2012, the second day of trial, Mr. Chamberlin filed two pleadings in open court: (1) an Answer to Respondent's Amended Objection to Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Request to the Court to Decline Jurisdiction; and, (2) an Amended Affidavit for UCCJEA Information in compliance with La.R.S. 13:1821.
At the conclusion of the hearing in this matter on October 26, 2012, the trial court ruled that Louisiana is Jack's home state; therefore, jurisdiction to decide custody was proper in Louisiana. In reaching ...