980 A.2d 1059 (Del.Fam.Ct. 2009), CS92-4039, Christenson v. Tanner

Docket Nº:CS92-4039.
Citation:980 A.2d 1059
Opinion Judge:JONES, J.
Party Name:Donald CHRISTENSON, Petitioner, v. Tanya TANNER, Respondent.
Attorney:Donald Christenson, Pro Se, Georgetown, DE. Tanya Tucker, Pro Se, Georgetown, DE.
Case Date:May 26, 2009
Court:Family Court of Delaware

Page 1059

980 A.2d 1059 (Del.Fam.Ct. 2009)

Donald CHRISTENSON, Petitioner,


Tanya TANNER, Respondent.

No. CS92-4039.

Family Court of Delaware, Sussex

May 26, 2009

Submitted: March 06, 2009.

Donald Christenson, Pro Se, Georgetown, DE.

Tanya Tucker, Pro Se, Georgetown, DE.



Pending before the Court is a Petition for Custody, filed by Donald Christenson 1

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(" Father" ) against Tanya Tanner (" Mother" ) on October 14, 2008, regarding the parties' 16-year-old daughter, Carla (d.o.b. 1992). Mother filed an Answer on November 10, 2008, opposing Father's Petition. Father's Petition requested that the Court award the parties joint custody of Carla and award primary placement to Father. A pre-trial hearing was held on this matter on March 6, 2009, and a hearing is currently scheduled for July 7, 2009.


Prior to the filing of the Petition currently before the Court, Mother had custody of Carla and Father had visitation, pursuant to an Order of this Court entered on February 12, 1993. Although the full hearing on this Petition has not yet occurred, the Court is prepared to issue an Order at this time due to facts that arose during the pre-trial hearing in March.

Prior to the pre-trial hearing, Mother and Father attended mediation and both parties agreed that Father would have custody of Carla and Mother would have visitation. Although the parties had come to an agreement, the matter was referred to this Court because Father had certain criminal convictions on his record. At the March 6 pre-trial hearing, the Court was satisfied that Carla would not be in danger if she were to be placed with Father. At the hearing, Carla objected to the arrangement that had been reached at mediation and stated that she would refuse to agree to any custody arrangement that required Carla to visit Mother at Mother's home. Carla alleged that Mother's boyfriend had sexually molested Carla. Additionally, Carla revealed to the Court that, two days prior to the hearing, Carla had traveled to Virginia and had married her 25-year-old boyfriend with Father's consent.2

Subsequent to this hearing, the Court issued an Order on March 9, 2009, providing that the parties would enjoy temporary joint custody of Carla and Father would enjoy temporary placement of Carla. In addition, the Court ordered that Mother's visitation was temporarily stayed pending further order of the Court. However, after further research, the Court has determined that it is appropriate to vacate its March 9 Order and dismiss not only Father's Petition for Custody, but any and all petitions and/or motions relating to matters of custody and visitation of Carla. This decision is based on the Court's determination that Carla has been emancipated from the care, custody, and control of her parents as a result of her marriage.

Legal Standard

The specific issue of whether the marriage of a minor causes the minor to be emancipated from the care, custody, and control of her parents is an issue of first impression in the Delaware Courts, so there is no generally accepted legal standard for the Court to use.

Findings and Conclusions

In 1999, the Family Court of Delaware held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to address a minor child's petition for emancipation in the absence of legislation specifically granting it the authority to do so. 3 However, this decision did not address the issue of whether the marriage of

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a minor causes her to be emancipated as a matter of law.

In finding that the Family Court did not have jurisdiction to hear a minor's petition for emancipation, the Court in S.L. v. A. and Sh. L. noted that the Delaware Code did not provide a definition for " emancipation" or for " emancipated minor" ; the legal definition from Black's Law Dictionary was the only definition available at that time. The Delaware Code has since been amended to include a definition of "...

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