This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
John K. Meikle, petitioner,
Brenda K. Winner-Hite Meikle,
Filed January 9, 2007
Lake of the Woods County District Court
File No. F2-01-167
Alan B. Fish, Alan B. Fish, P.A.,
Blair W. Nelson, Blair W. Nelson,
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal challenging an order granting attorney fees and travel costs arising from a parenting-time dispute, appellant argues that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over child-custody issues and therefore could not have assessed fees and costs for appellant’s failure to abide by an order issued in the parties’ parenting-time dispute. Because we find that the order of the district court regarding attorney fees and travel costs arose from a parenting-time dispute over which the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, we reverse.
Appellant Brenda K.
Winner-Hite Meikle (Winner-Hite) and respondent John K. Meikle married in
February 2001 in
After moving back to
Following a recommendation
by the guardian ad litem, the district court issued an order granting Meikle
temporary visitation in
Meikle had difficulty arranging his visits, and once again moved for a contempt order due to what he alleged was Winner-Hite’s “willful denial” of the court’s parenting-time orders; he also moved for sole physical custody of the child.
In June 2004, the court issued an order to show cause as
to why Winner-Hite should not be held in contempt; Winner-Hite filed a
cross-motion to transfer all custody and parenting-time issues to
In an October 12, 2004 order, the court noted that the
parties agreed to jurisdiction in
In January 2005, Meikle moved the
The district court awarded Meikle $17,575.52 in attorney fees and travel costs, citing Winner-Hite’s “unreasonable conduct” in regard to the court’s parenting-time orders. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
Winner-Hite challenges the district court’s order awarding Meikle attorney fees and costs based on violating parenting-time orders. She argues that the parenting-time orders are void for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, rendering the order requiring her to pay attorney fees and costs unenforceable. Based on a careful review of statutory and case law, we agree.
Subject-matter jurisdiction is “a
court’s power to hear and determine cases of the general class or category to
which the proceedings in question belong[,]” and whether subject-matter
jurisdiction exists is reviewed de novo.
comments to the UCCJEA state that jurisdiction to make child-custody
determinations involves subject-matter jurisdiction. Unif. Child Custody Juris. & Enf. Act §
201 cmt. 1, 9 IA U.L.A. 673 (1997) (“[J]urisdiction to make a child custody
determination is subject matter jurisdiction . . . .”).
We proceed cautiously in applying a subject-matter-jurisdiction analysis in this case, and candidly recognize the troubling nature of a decision that, here, the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to render the custody-related decisions that it did. Nonetheless, we conclude that such a decision is required.
the outset, we recognize that as a general proposition, the courts of this
state have the “power to hear and determine cases of the general class or
category to which the proceedings in question belong”—namely child-custody
determinations. Bode, 594 N.W.2d at 259. Although
this may seem conclusive as to subject-matter jurisdiction, our review of the
statutory and case law of both
child-custody statutes have been adopted in the majority of states in the
(1) this state is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state;
(2) a court of another state does not have jurisdiction under clause (1), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum under section 518D.207 or 518D.208, and:
(i) the child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
(ii) substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
(3) all courts having jurisdiction under clause (1) or (2) have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under section 518D.207 or 518D.208; or
(4) no court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in clause (1), (2), or (3).
Winner-Hite argues that the
district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under section 518D.201. She contends that
Although the district court
lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under section 518D.201 to address
custody-related matters, we recognize that jurisdiction may be acquired in
other limited circumstances. See
Meikle argues that
Winner-Hite consented to, or waived, subject-matter jurisdiction over the
child-custody determinations. While this
argument has superficial appeal
and persuasiveness, we must reject it. Subject-matter
jurisdiction cannot be acquired by waiver or consent, and is an issue that can
be raised at any time. Schroeder, 658 N.W.2d at 912; see also Cochrane v. Tudor Oaks Condo. Project, 529 N.W.2d 429, 432 (
In reaching the decision we conclude is mandated in this case, we are not insensitive to the very real confusion that may have arisen due to the initial refusal of the New Mexico court to exercise jurisdiction in the marriage dissolution proceeding. That decision was based, however, upon the determination that Winner-Hite had not satisfied the residency requirements of New Mexico, and was not entitled to bring a proceeding in that state at that time to dissolve the parties’ marriage. But the issues concerning the minor child are qualitatively different from those involved in residency requirements. There can be no question that the New Mexico court was and is the proper court to exercise jurisdiction (and, in fact, ultimately did exercise that jurisdiction) regarding issues concerning the custody and parenting-time of the child here.
We conclude that despite Winner-Hite’s appearance before
Although the issues addressed by the district court here involved
money rather than the custody and parenting-time disputes giving rise to the
financial questions, the overarching policy concerns behind the UCCJEA guide
our ultimate decision. It is undisputed
that the irretrievable nature of childhood and importance of prompt custody decisions
create a strong public policy for the prompt resolution of jurisdictional
questions in custody matters. See Johnson v. Johnson, 363 N.W.2d 355, 357 (Minn. App. 1985) (referring to
the “strong policy considerations supporting prompt determination of child
custody matters”), review denied
(Minn. May 6, 1985); see also Minn.
App. Spec. R. Pract. 1 (noting scheduling priority is given to appeals
involving child custody and termination of parental rights). The UCCJEA explicitly recognizes this policy
and implicitly concedes that, historically, the ability of courts to implement
it has been limited when courts of different states differ regarding which
court has jurisdiction to address a particular custody matter. See
insists that the parenting-time orders are void and the district court lacked
authority to “sanction” her with attorney fees and costs pursuant to void orders.
While the history of the parties’
disputes in this case does not evidence a great concern for the policies
underpinning the UCCJEA, and while a simplistic resolution of the issues now
before us would be to declare that the district court acted within its
jurisdiction, the record and the relevant authorities compel us to
reverse. Based on our conclusion that
issues involved in determining custody and parenting time are beyond the
jurisdictional reach of
A judgment is void “where
the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Lange
v. Johnson, 295
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Indeed, the district court, in an October 2004 order denying Winner-Hite’s motion for a change of venue, stated that the parties “have already agreed upon this forum as previously ordered in the Decree.” Even assuming that the parties could have waived child-custody jurisdiction, our review of the decree indicates only that issues of paternity, custody, visitation, and support were reserved. There is no mention of the UCCJEA in the decree, and certainly no indication that the parties wished to specifically waive any application of that Act.
 We make no comment on whether the financial
issues addressed by the district court here would be within the jurisdiction of
the courts of