This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







John K. Meikle, petitioner,





Brenda K. Winner-Hite Meikle,




Filed January 9, 2007


Huspeni, Judge*



Lake of the Woods County District Court

File No. F2-01-167



Alan B. Fish, Alan B. Fish, P.A., 102 2nd Avenue Northwest, Roseau, MN 56751 (for respondent)


Blair W. Nelson, Blair W. Nelson, LTD., 205 Seventh Street N.W., Suite 3, Bemidji, MN 56601 (for appellant)




            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 New Mexico, and moved to Minnesota.  They separated soon after, and Winner-Hite moved back to New Mexico in July 2001.  She gave birth to the parties’ child in January 2002 in New Mexico.

            After moving back to New Mexico, and before giving birth, Winner-Hite filed for dissolution in New Mexico in August 2001.  The New Mexico court dismissed that action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that Winner-Hite had abandoned her New Mexico residency to live in Minnesota.  Meikle subsequently filed for dissolution in Minnesota.  Winner-Hite appeared before the Minnesota court through counsel, and a decree of dissolution was issued in October 2002.  Custody and parenting-time issues were reserved in the decree, pending a report from a guardian ad litem appointed by the court.  The child continued to live with his mother in New Mexico throughout the proceedings in Minnesota, and has never resided in Minnesota.

            Following a recommendation by the guardian ad litem, the district court issued an order granting Meikle temporary visitation in New Mexico.  Meikle experienced difficulty achieving compliance with a parenting-time schedule, and moved to have the district court find Winner-Hite in contempt.  After a hearing, the court ordered a specific parenting-time schedule and required Winner-Hite to “pay 2/3 of all fees and expenses associated with [Meikle’s] visitation . . . in New Mexico.”  The court did not specifically address Meikle’s contempt motion at that time.  The guardian ad litem subsequently provided additional recommendations regarding parenting time, prompting the court to issue two more modified parenting-time orders.

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 New Mexico.  She argued that Minnesota courts lack jurisdiction to make custody determinations in this case.  The court found Winner-Hite in contempt for violating its parenting-time orders, but reserved levying sanctions until a final resolution of all issues. 

In an October 12, 2004 order, the court noted that the parties agreed to jurisdiction in Minnesota, that the New Mexico court had already declined jurisdiction, that Meikle has a significant connection to Minnesota, and that substantial evidence concerning the child’s care is in Minnesota.  The court once again ordered that the parties have joint legal and physical custody, and outlined a specific parenting-time schedule. 

            After the Minnesota court held Winner-Hite in contempt, the New Mexico court issued an ex parte order claiming jurisdiction over all custody issues in this case.  By December 2004, the New Mexico and Minnesota district courts had conferred and agreed that proper subject-matter jurisdiction over the child-custody issues is in the New Mexico courts. 

In January 2005, Meikle moved the Minnesota court for $28,095.36, including both the portion of the fees and expenses for which the district court’s parenting-time order made Winner-Hite responsible, and attorney fees he incurred in trying to enforce that order.  Meikle claimed that Winner-Hite delayed the proceedings, was already held in contempt of a court order, and unnecessarily added to the length and cost of the proceedings.  Winner-Hite countered, arguing that Minnesota lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and that jurisdiction properly lies in New Mexico.

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.


            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.  Bode v. Minn. Dep’t of Natural Res., 594 N.W.2d 257, 259 (Minn. App. 1999) (quotation omitted) (defining subject-matter jurisdiction), aff’d, 612 N.W.2d 862 (Minn. 2000); Kellar v. Von Holtum, 605 N.W.2d 696, 700 (Minn. 2000) (stating the standard of review).

            Minnesota adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) for all child-custody issues raised after January 1, 2000.  Minn. Stat. §§ 518D.101-.317 (2004).  New Mexico also adopted the UCCJEA.  N.M. Stat. §§ 40-10A-101 to 40-10A-403 (2004).  Under the UCCJEA, child-custody determinations include parenting-time orders.  Minn. Stat. § 518D.102(d) (2004).

The 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 . . . .”).  Minnesota has adopted section 201 of the UCCJEA.  Minn. Stat. § 518D.201 (2004); see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518D.201 official cmt. (West 2004) (repeating official comment stating that jurisdiction under UCCJEA to make child-custody decisions is subject-matter jurisdiction.)  Additionally, this court has previously recognized that application of the UCCJEA involves questions of subject-matter jurisdiction.  Schroeder v. Schroeder, 658 N.W.2d 909, 912 (Minn. App. 2003); see Johnson v. Murray, 648 N.W.2d 664, 670 (Minn. 2002) (noting application of UCCJEA’s predecessor statute, the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), involved questions of 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.

At 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 Minnesota and foreign jurisdictions indicates that such jurisdiction is limited when uniform child-custody statutes are applicable.  See Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738A(c) (2004) (requiring that full faith and credit be given to state courts’ child-custody determinations provided that the courts have jurisdiction under state law and satisfy one of five additional jurisdictional bases);Minn. Stat. § 518D.201(b) (2004) (providing that section 518D.201(a) is “the exclusive jurisdictional basis for making a child custody determination by a court of this state”); Unif. Child Custody Juris. & Enf. Act § 201(b), 9 IA U.L.A. 671 (1997) (providing section 201(a), the model for Minnesota’s section 518D.201, is the exclusive jurisdictional basis for making child-custody determinations).

Uniform child-custody statutes have been adopted in the majority of states in the United States, and serve to resolve jurisdictional issues involving interstate child-custody disputes and must be interpreted accordingly.  Stone v. Stone, 636 N.W.2d 594, 597 (Minn. App. 2001); see Unif. Child Custody Juris. & Enf. Act, 9 IA U.L.A. 74 (Supp. 2006) (listing jurisdictions that have adopted UCCJEA).  Under the UCCJEA, Minnesota courts have jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if

(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).


Minn. Stat. § 518D.201(a).  The jurisdictional bases listed in (1) through (4) above are the exclusive bases for making child-custody determinations by courts of this state.  Minn. Stat. § 518D.201(b).  Once a court has proper subject-matter jurisdiction under section 518D.201, it is presumed to have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over child-custody determinations.  Minn. Stat. § 518D.202.  

            Winner-Hite argues that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under section 518D.201.  She contends that Minnesota never had authority to render a child-custody determination because New Mexico has always been the child’s home state.  We agree.  The child of the parties was born in New Mexico and has lived there with Winner-Hite for his entire life.  He has never resided in Minnesota.  Despite the child’s brief visits to Minnesota, New Mexico has always been his home state.  Therefore, a Minnesota district court could not have acquired jurisdiction under Minn. Stat. § 518D.201(1).  Nor could it have acquired jurisdiction under the other clauses in that section.  New Mexico, as the child’s home state, had jurisdiction under clause (1), and the record before this court does not show that a New Mexico court ever found that Minnesota is a more appropriate forum for a child-custody determination under Minn. Stat. § 518D.207 (inconvenient forum) or Minn. Stat. § 518D.208 (jurisdiction declined by reason of conduct).  Minn. Stat. § 518D.201(2)-(3).      

            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 Minn. Stat. § 518D.204 (conferring Minnesota courts with temporary emergency jurisdiction when the child is abandoned in the state, or because the child is subject to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse).  But the facts of this case do not support an exercise of jurisdiction under this section.  The child was not present in Minnesota, and there is no evidence to suggest that the child was subject to mistreatment or abuse.

            Meikle argues that Winner-Hite consented to, or waived, subject-matter jurisdiction over the child-custody determinations.  While this argument has superficial appeal[1] 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 (Minn. App. 1995) (stating “lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, including for the first time on appeal”), review denied (Minn. May 31, 1995).

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 the Minnesota court in the dissolution proceeding, and that court’s proper exercise of jurisdiction in dissolving the parties’ marriage and resolving certain additional issues, the issues involved in determining custody and parenting-time of the minor child were beyond the jurisdictional reach of Minnesota courts. 

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 Minn. Stat. § 518D.107 (2004). 

            Ultimately, Winner-Hite 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 Minnesota courts in this case, we must agree with Winner-Hite.[2] 

            A judgment is void “where the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter.”  Lange v. Johnson, 295 Minn. 320, 323, 204 N.W.2d 205, 208 (1973).  The district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over child-custody and parenting-time issues in this case.  Without proper jurisdiction, the orders are “inherently void and cannot be validated by the passage of time.”  Bode, 594 N.W.2d at 260.  Because the various custody and parenting-time orders in this case are void for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and are unenforceable, the attorney fees and costs awarded pursuant to those void orders are also unenforceable.


*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] 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.

[2]  We make no comment on whether the financial issues addressed by the district court here would be within the jurisdiction of the courts of New Mexico to decide.