Custody. Muscogee Superior Court. Before Judge Mullins.
Pearson Law Group, Romero T. Pearson, for appellant.
Lindsay B. Erwin, Michael D. Reynolds, for appellee.
Andrews, Presiding Judge.
Justin Calhoun filed a Petition for Legitimation, Custody, Child Support, and Visitation (the " Petition" ) against April Slay in the trial court seeking, among other things, to legitimate and obtain joint legal and primary physical custody of K. C., Calhoun and Slay's daughter, who was born January 15, 2011. The trial court entered a temporary order, in which it concluded that it had personal and subject matter jurisdiction, legitimated Calhoun as K.C.'s father, and awarded [332 Ga.App. 336] Calhoun temporary legal custody of K. C. In its subsequent Final Order on Custody, Visitation and Support, the trial court granted the parties joint legal custody of K. C., granted Calhoun primary physical custody of K. C., granted visitation rights to Slay, and determined the parties' child support obligations. The trial court also entered a Final Order on Subject Matter Jurisdiction concluding that the issue was moot and had previously been decided. Slay now appeals, arguing that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the issue of child custody. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
We review de novo the trial court's legal conclusion that it had subject matter jurisdiction in this case. Delgado v. Combs, 314 Ga.App. 419, 425-426 (1) (724 S.E.2d 436) (2012).
The record reflects that on April 16, 2013, Calhoun filed the Petition together with a Petition for Instanter Custody requesting immediate physical custody of K. C. on the ground that he feared for the child's health, safety, and welfare should Slay retain custody of her. In an order entered the same day, the trial court awarded immediate temporary custody of K. C. to Calhoun. Slay, pro se, filed an answer to the Petition and also moved to dismiss Calhoun's action for lack of in personam jurisdiction and improper venue. Following a hearing on April 30, 2013, which was not transcribed, the trial court entered its temporary order addressing the issues of legitimation and temporary custody. The temporary order ordered the Juvenile Court of Muscogee County to investigate the best interest of the child with respect to permanent custody. With respect to jurisdictional issues, the temporary order concluded that the trial court had " jurisdiction over the parties and over the subject matter of this action."
After receiving the juvenile court's report, the trial court held a final hearing on March 19, 2014. Slay was represented by counsel, who argued at the beginning of the hearing that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the issue of child custody under the terms of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (" UCCJEA" ), OCGA § 19-9-40 et seq., because Slay resided in Florida. In support of the motion, Slay's counsel examined Slay, who testified that she lived in Ponce de Leon, Florida and has always lived in Florida except for a period of time after K.C.'s birth. She stated that she moved to Georgia nine days after K. C.'s birth in Panama City, Florida in January 2011 but returned to Florida in August 2012. Slay's mother also testified that Slay moved back to Florida in August 2012. The trial court denied the jurisdictional motion.
Calhoun testified at the hearing that he was living in Bonifay, Florida with Slay when K. C. was born. After the child was born, Slay and K. C. moved to Columbus, Georgia to live with Calhoun's mother, but he could not join them immediately because he was on probation [332 Ga.App. 337] in Florida. Calhoun moved to Georgia once his probation was transferred to this state, and he and Slay lived with his mother and stepfather for several months and then moved to a rental home. Calhoun testified that Slay went to Florida with K. C. for a visit and then called and stated that she was not coming back. He stated that once Slay returned to Florida, he and Slay worked out a visitation arrangement under which they would alternate keeping K. C. for two-week periods and would meet in Dothan, Alabama to pick her up or drop her off. According to Calhoun, Slay often would call a week early saying she could not take care of K. C., and he or his parents would have to meet her or drive down to Florida to pick up K. C. Calhoun testified that Slay often did not have stable housing in Florida and lived at times with her mother, a friend, her brother, and her boyfriend, who would sometimes kick her out.
Calhoun's mother testified that Slay and K. C. went to Florida for a visit in August 2012 and that after several weeks, Slay decided to stay. She testified that after Slay moved to Florida, each parent was supposed to have K. C. for three weeks at a time but that Slay was always calling after about a week and a half and asking for someone to come get the child. She stated that she drove to Florida over a dozen times to pick up K. C. when Slay was unable to care for her. Calhoun's mother picked up Slay and K. C. in Dothan on March 19, 2013, and Slay stayed in Columbus for one or two nights for a visit. Calhoun filed his Petition shortly thereafter while K. C. was still in Georgia.
Slay testified that her arrangement with Calhoun was that they each would have the child for alternating three-week periods but admitted there were times when she would call Calhoun to come get the child early. Slay and Calhoun testified that K. C. had received health insurance coverage under Medicaid and PeachCare in Georgia. When asked if she took the child to the doctor in Florida, Slay stated that she took K. C. to the emergency room once when K. C. had an ear infection. K. C. had her two-year checkup ...