ILNews

Justices: Indiana OK to dismiss jurisdiction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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In an Indiana custody case that started before a married couple's only child was born, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that either Indiana or the state where the child was born could have jurisdiction over proceedings. The Indiana trial court dismissed proceedings in favor of Washington State, where the child was born, as a more convenient forum, clearing the way for that state to take over jurisdiction.

The issue in Anthony N. Stewart v. Signe L. (Stewart) Vulliet, No. 12S02-0708-CV-331, is whether Indiana could dismiss the child custody proceedings between Anthony Stewart and Signe Vulliet and allow Washington to take over the proceedings.

Stewart and Vulliet were married and lived in Washington before moving to Indiana. While Vulliet was pregnant and still living in Indiana, she filed for divorce and moved back to Washington after living in Indiana for only six months. Their daughter, A.S., was born in Washington in 2004 and for nearly two years, the Indiana trial court issued several orders pertaining to the child's custody.

In April 2006, Vulliet asked the Indiana court to dismiss custody and visitation issues, arguing Indiana was an inconvenient forum. The court granted the motion, even though it ruled she had waived her right to claim forum inconvenience, and decided Washington was better suited to resolve the dispute because it was the child's home state and it had a closer connection with the child and witnesses concerning the child's welfare.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court decision, ruling Indiana is a more convenient forum and Vulliet had waived any claim that Washington was the daughter's home state.

The Indiana Supreme Court examined the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Law (UCCJL) to determine if Indiana ever had jurisdiction over the child. The provisions in the law dictate what happens only after a child is born, so the Supreme Court looked to other courts to determine what to do when cases are filed before a child is born.

The high court determined that both states could have jurisdiction over the child. Under Indiana Code, jurisdiction is conferred to Indiana if a child doesn't have a home state and it's in the best interest of the child for Indiana to assume jurisdiction. Before the child was born, she didn't have a home state, so it was justified for Indiana to have jurisdiction.

However, once the baby was born in Washington, that state became her home state and they had concurrent subject-matter jurisdiction to determine custody, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"Despite that A.S., being unborn, did not have a home state nor close connections with the state of Washington when the proceeding was commenced, the trial court can still properly consider these factors when determining whether to dismiss the action for forum inconvenience because the UCCJL authorizes a court to decline exercising jurisdiction 'any time before making a decree,'" wrote Chief Justice Shepard.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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