Plummer v. Plummer, S18G0146, January 22, 2019, Supreme Court of Georgia
Father and Mother lived in Georgia and were divorced in Georgia, and the Georgia court decided custody. Mother moved to Florida. Father, still in Georgia, asked the Georgia court to modify custody in 2015. In 2016, Father was relocated by the Navy to Virginia. Shortly after the relocation, the Court entered a temporary order in Father’s favor. Thereafter, Mother moved to dismiss, because no one lived in Georgia anymore. The trial court granted the motion. Father asked the Court of Appeals to weigh in, and it affirmed. Up to the Supreme Court of Georgia it went, and it all got reversed.
The Supreme Court focused on jurisdiction being established at the time of filing. Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (“UCCJA”), adopted by Georgia, DC, and 48 other states, a court has “exclusive, continuing jurisdiction.” The court noted that both the comments to the statute and the decisional law of every state that has addressed the issue state that jurisdiction is established at the time of filing. The court added that “time of filing” is the applicable jurisdictional principal in other domestic relations cases and general principles of jurisdictional jurisprudence. (21 CJS Courts § 90, 20 AmJur2d Court § 96.)
Here’s where the law-nerd stuff starts. Three justices filed a three-page concurrence in which they argued that, although they agree with the conclusion, they cannot agree with at least some of the rationale. Specifically, the concurrence rejected the notion of relying on the comments of those who drafted the legislation: “Comments of this sort may be persuasive as scholarly commentary, but we ought not to consider them as evidence of uncodified drafter’s intent.” The concurrence also took issue with the majority’s interpretation of “Uniform” as calling for any sort of uniformity: “That the courts of another state later interpret similar language in a particular fashion cannot change the meaning of Georgia law.” Although I understand the concept of rejecting an intent inquiry on facts/items that didn’t exist at the time legislation was passed (e.g., does the Second Amendment apply to grenade launchers), concurrent statements of interpretation, in my view at least, while not binding, are certainly the sort of thing that help courts understand the law. This is especially so where uniformity is called for.