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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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