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Trial court didn't have personal jurisdiction over serviceman

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed part of a dissolution decree after finding the Marion Superior Court lacked personal jurisdiction over the husband who was in the military overseas.

In In re: the marriage of Anthony J. Harris v. Teasha J. Harris, No. 49A04-0905-CV-256, Anthony Harris appealed the dissolution decree in which the court ordered custody of their child to his ex-wife, Teasha, that he pay child support and spousal support, and distributed the marital property. The trial court also denied his motion to correct errors.

Anthony is in the military; he and Teasha never lived in Indiana prior to their separation when she moved to Indiana and he was stationed in Germany. He declined to accept voluntary service of her notice of petition to dissolve the marriage in Marion Superior Court. He later filed for divorce and custody in a North Carolina court. Anthony didn't have an attorney for the Marion County proceedings and never attended them. The Indiana and North Carolina courts agreed Indiana would have jurisdiction.

After the dissolution order was entered, Anthony filed a motion to correct errors, which was denied. That was an error, the appellate court concluded because he didn't waive the claim of lack of personal jurisdiction based on his letter declining to accept voluntary service or the fact he was served in North Carolina, wrote Judge Elaine Brown.

The Marion Superior Court had jurisdiction to dissolve the Harrises' marriage, so the appellate court affirmed the decree of dissolution of the marriage. But the court didn't have jurisdiction to adjudicate the incidences of marriage or the child support. Anthony never lived in Indiana at any time during the marriage, so Indiana Trial Rule 4.4(A)(7) didn't apply, nor are there any sufficient contacts with the Marion Superior Court to establish personal jurisdiction over him.

The trial court also erred in making a determination as to custody of their child because it failed to follow the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act prior to entering the decree, wrote the judge. In addition, the trial court failed to allow Anthony an opportunity to participate and present facts before the decision on which state had jurisdiction.

The appellate court remanded with instructions to comply with the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in the child custody proceedings and to make a decision on jurisdiction in accordance with the requirements of Indiana's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

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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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