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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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