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Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Transfer Child Custody Dispute from Moore County to Nueces County

On February 4, 2016, the Corpus Christi-Edinburg Court of Appeals released in re C.G. concerning proper venue and jurisdiction of a child custody modification.

The facts in the opinion are very messy. In June 2010, mother and father finalized their divorce in Sherman County.  In April 2011, father filed a motion to modify and a motion to transfer to Moore County. He alleged mother and the child had lived in Moore County for the preceding 6 months. The case was transferred to Moore County in June 2011.

In April 2012, father filed amended pleadings in Moore County. In August 2012, while the case was still pending in Moore County, father filed a motion to transfer the case to either Randall or Ellis County. He alleged the mother and child had lived in Randall county for more than a year, and that either county would essentially be more convenient for the parties than Moore County.

In August 2012, Father also filed for a protective order in Ellis County, alleging mother was a resident of Nueces County. The Ellis County Court granted a protective order against mother.
In September 2012, the Moore County trial court transferred venue to Nueces County. The parties litigated in Nueces County from December 2012 until approximately July 2014 — after a full trial and post-judgment motions — the Nueces County trial court determined that it lacked jurisdiction and forwarded the case back to Moore County.

The Court of Appeals held that the Nueces County trial court was correct that it lacked jurisdiction. It further held that Family Code section 155.001 (the transfer law) was in the nature of jurisdiction, and that father’s motion to transfer in August 2012 was not timely. It should have been filed in April 2012, with his first pleading in Moore County. So he was too late, by the specific terms of the law. The Court concluded that Moore County did not have jurisdiction to transfer the matter to Nueces County. The Court stated, “An untimely motion to transfer gives a trial court no authority to transfer a cause to another court.” In addressing a possible split among courts of appeals, the Corpus court also stated, “… we join our other sister courts that hold that the continuing, exclusive jurisdiction statutory scheme is “truly jurisdictional”—that is, when one court has continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over a matter, any order or judgment issued by another court pertaining to the same matter is void.