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Court erred in concluding it lacked jurisdiction over military husband

May 7, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals sent a divorce case back to the trial court Thursday because the trial court erred in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over the husband on division of property and spousal maintenance issues.

Teasha and Anthony Harris married in 1995 in New York, had one daughter, and then separated in 2005. At that time, Teasha Harris and the daughter moved to Indiana. She filed for divorce in Marion County in 2008; at that time, Anthony Harris was a resident of North Carolina but was stationed in Germany.

In 2009, without husband present, the trial court dissolved the marriage, awarded wife custody of their child, ordered child support and spousal allowance as well as 32 percent of husband’s military pension. Husband appealed and the COA affirmed the dissolution of the marriage but held that judgments as to child support, spousal allowance, military retirement pay and all other incidences of marriage were void for lack of personal jurisdiction. Child custody was also reversed.

In 2014, husband petitioned the court to find wife in contempt because he tried to see his daughter before deploying but wife would not respond to his requests. The trial court, citing the COA ruling, found that husband only submitted to jurisdiction in Indiana for the limited purposes of the parties’ child. Wife sought a ruling on spousal allowance, payment on a vehicle, the pension and other matters, but the trial court declined.  

In In Re the Marriage of: Teasha J. Harris v. Anthony J. Harris, 49A04-1501-DR-14, Judge John Baker pointed out that its previous opinion did not render the issue of jurisdiction over husband res judicata. The husband asked the trial court to approve an agreed entry for decree of resolution in 2011, and by doing so, consented to the court’s exercise of jurisdiction over him.

“At that point, this Court’s decision as to the trial court’s jurisdiction as it existed in 2010 no longer applied,” Baker wrote. The court also erred in determining it only had jurisdiction over the husband on certain matters. The COA remanded the case to the trial court for wife to again petition the trial court for equitable division of marital assets and spousal maintenance.

Wife did lose her appeal regarding receiving a portion of her husband’s pension. At the time the marriage dissolved, husband was not yet vested, and so under I.C. 31-9-2-98, wife was not entitled to a portion of it.

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