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Plummer v. Plummer

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

August 17, 2017

PLUMMER
v.
PLUMMER.

          MILLER, P. J., DOYLE and REESE, JJ.

          Doyle, Judge.

         Christopher Plummer ("the father") appeals the dismissal of his custody modification action, arguing that the superior court erred by determining that it lacked jurisdiction to modify custody pursuant to OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) (2). For the following reasons, we affirm.

         The procedural history in this case is undisputed. The father and Elia Marie Plummer ("the mother") were divorced on December 12, 2013, in Camden County, Georgia, and they were granted joint legal custody of their minor son, with the mother having primary physical custody. At the time of the divorce, the mother and the child had moved to Florida; the father remained in Georgia. Thereafter, the father filed a motion for contempt in Camden County, and the superior court granted the motion on April 30, 2015.[1]

         On May 21, 2015, the father filed a modification action in Camden County. On July 8, 2016, following a telephone conference with counsel and the guardian ad litem, the trial court entered a temporary order, granting the father additional visitation, including a month of summer visitation. On August 19, 2016, the mother filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) (2). In his memorandum in opposition to the motion, the father conceded that due to military obligations he moved to Virginia on July 1, 2016, and he alleged that on August 29, 2016, the mother moved to Arizona with the child. The superior court granted the motion dismiss, concluding that it lost subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) (2) because neither the child nor the parents resided in Georgia. This appeal followed.

         In 2001, Georgia adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"), [2] replacing its predecessor

because, in application, imprecision in [the prior act's] language often allowed for the existence of concurrent jurisdiction over custody matters in multiple states, thereby fostering competition among jurisdictions and forum shopping by the parties. The UCCJEA now remedies these earlier unintended problems by establishing continuing jurisdiction in the state in which the original custody decree was entered.[3]

         "Therefore, under the UCCJEA, a Georgia court that makes an initial child custody determination generally will have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over custody matters."[4] OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) provides, however, that such jurisdiction shall continue until

(1) A court of this state determines that neither the child nor the child's parents or any person acting as a parent has a significant connection with this state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or
(2) A court of this state or a court of another state determines that neither the child nor the child's parents or any person acting as a parent presently resides in this state.[5]

         Section (b) of this Code section provides: "A court of this state which has made a child custody determination and does not have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under this Code section may modify that determination only if it has jurisdiction to make an initial determination under Code Section 19-9-61."

         Here, the superior court concluded that it lost jurisdiction pursuant to OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) (2) because "neither the child nor the parents now reside in Georgia, " finding that "the [father] lives in Virginia, [and] the [mother] lives in Florida with the child." Once the superior court determined that OCGA § 19-9-62 (a) (2) applied, it no longer had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.[6] And the superior court did not have jurisdiction to modify custody under OCGA § 19-9-62 (b) because it would not have had jurisdiction to make an initial determination under OCGA § 19-9-61.[7]

         The father argues that the superior court erred by dismissing his petition because subject matter jurisdiction attached at the time he filed the modification petition, relying upon the official comment to UCCJEA § 202[8] and cases from other jurisdictions.[9] OCGA § 19-9-101 provides: "In applying and construing [the UCCJEA], consideration must be given to the need to promote uniformity of the law with respect to its subject matter among states that enact it." And we have previously recognized that "[i]n accordance with this mandate, and given the relative dearth of Georgia law on this subject, we will look to the cases of other jurisdictions when appropriate to resolve the issues presented in [a case involving the UCCJEA]."[10]Cases of other jurisdictions and the comments are not, however, binding, [11]particularly if they conflict with the plain wording of a Georgia statute.

Under our well-established rules of statutory construction, we presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant. To that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning, we must view the statutory text in the context in which it appears, and we must read the statutory text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would. In our interpretation of statutes, we thus look to the text of the provision ...

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