Chandler v. Chandler, 35225

Decision Date23 June 1960
Docket NumberNo. 35225,35225
PartiesMary Louise CHANDLER, Respondent, v. Edgar J. CHANDLER, Appellant.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Read & Church, Vancouver, for appellant.

No appearance for respondent.

FOSTER, Judge.

This is an appeal by the husband from a judgment granting respondent wife's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and custody of the parties' two minor children.

During most of the ten years of their marriage and at the time of their separation, the matrimonial domicile was in Arkansas. Appellant husband alleges that respondent wife developed an emotional problem and deprived him of the opportunity to live with or to visit the children. As a result, in March, 1958, appellant filed a complaint in the Arkansas chancery court for Benton county praying that he be awarded custody of the children. While the matter was pending, on April 3, 1958, upon notice, the court temporarily ordered that appellant be allowed to visit the children at the home of respondent's mother, but restrained him from removing them from the grandmother's house. Later that same day, appellant took the children and moved to Clark county, Washington.

Thereafter, respondent answered and cross-complained for divorce. Personal service of the answer and cross-complaint then being impossible, substituted service was employed. It is beyond controversy that the matrimonial domicile was then in Arkansas. Respondent abandoned her prayer for divorce, and in May, 1958, was granted separate maintenance and custody of the two minor children.

In March, 1959, respondent wife sought the custody of the children in the superior court of the state of Washington for Clark county by habeas corpus. The court, in a memorandum opinion, held for respondent. Findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment followed, from which the husband appeals. Thereafter, respondent wife returned with the children to Arkansas and filed no brief on this appeal.

Appellant assigns error to the trial court's determination that the Arkansas chancery court had jurisdiction over the children's custody and that its orders and decrees were valid. He assigns error to the refusal to hear proof of the claimed Washington domicile of the children.

Appellant argues that the Arkansas chancery court lacks jurisdiction of an independent custody action not ancillary to divorce or separate maintenance, that the Arkansas custody proceeding was void ab initio, and that his personal submission to the court's jurisdiction was, therefore, nullified.

He further urges lack of jurisdiction over his person or that of the children in the wife's suit because, in that proceeding, he was not served with process in the state and the children were not present within the state at the time of the cross-complaint or at the time of the entry of the custody order.

The Arkansas chancery courts have jurisdiction over the subject matter of an independent custody proceeding.

The Arkansas chancery courts have, by statute and constitution, broad equity jurisdiction. Arkansas constitution (1874), Art. VII, § 15; Ark.Ann.Stat. (1947 ed.), §§ 22-401, 22-404.

Appellant contends that, during the period from 1921 to 1949, the chancery court had jurisdiction over independent custody proceedings by statute. Ark.Ann.Stat. (1947 ed.), § 57-106. That act was repealed in 1949, however, by Acts of 1949, No. 140, § 235, and appellant claims that Ark.Ann.Stat. (1947 ed.), § 62-2004 is now applicable and confers jurisdiction of independent custody suits on the probate courts by reason of the language therein granting jurisdiction over 'the persons and estates of minors.' Appellant argues, from the legislative history (which is, first a legislative grant of independent custody jurisdiction to the chancery courts followed by specific repeal thereof), that the chancery courts now have no such jurisdiction.

Such argument fails. Ark.Ann.Stat. (1947 ed.), § 57-106, was not an enactment which conferred jurisdiction, but was a recognition of the chancery court's constitutional jurisdiction, and only established standards for the court's guidance. Furthermore, the purpose of § 57-106 was substantially re-enacted in the repealer. See Ark.Ann.Stat. (1959 Supp.), § 57-646 (Acts of 1949, No. 140, § 233). The legislative committee's comment to the section is 'The provisions of subsection a [of the new act] are substantially those found in Sections 6203 and 6205, Pope's Digest [§§ 57-104, 57-106], with some clarification in detail.'

Likewise, § 62-2004 is not new, but is substantially a re-enactment of the previous statute (Ark.Ann.Stat. (1947 ed.), § 57-101, which recognized the jurisdiction of probate courts over the property of minors. During the effective life of § 57-101, the chancery court properly exercised jurisdiction in awarding the custody of minors.

Furthermore, the Arkansas chancery court is a constitutional court endowed with equity jurisdiction and powers which cannot be enlarged or diminished by statute. Patterson v. McKay, 199 Ark. 140, 134 S.W.2d 543.

The probate court is also a constitutional court. Amendment 24 of the Arkansas constitution grants to the probate court

'* * * such exclusive original jurisdiction in matters relative to the probate of wills, the estates of deceased persons, executors, administrators, guardians, and persons of unsound minds and their estates, as is now vested in courts of probate, or may be hereafter prescribed by law. * * *'

Only the constitution can increase or diminish the jurisdiction of the Arkansas chancery courts. Certainly amendment 24 does not do so. It confers jurisdiction in matters unrelated to child custody. Watson v. Henderson, 98 Ark. 63, 135 S.W. 461; Hall v. Brewer, 40 Ark. 433. 1 The phrase in the amendment under consideration (amendment 24) 'or may be hereafter prescribed by law' cannot be said to authorize legislative curtailment of constitutionally granted jurisdiction to the chancery court. In any case, no statute has been discovered in which the legislature has attempted to restrict the jurisdiction of he chancery court.

Watson v. Henderson, supra, is quite significant because the supreme court of that state held [98 Ark. 63, 135 S.W. 464] '* * * But it was not intended by the Constitution to take away from the chancery courts their ancient original jurisdiction over the persons and estates of minors, so far as such jurisdiction may be necessary for the protection of the infant or to protect his property from waste or spoliation through the carelessness, fraud, mistake, or imposition of his parents, guardians, or others. These are distinct grounds of equitable jurisdiction which have existed since the establishment of courts of chancery, and have been recognized in the jurisprudence of our English speaking people for centuries. * * *'

That state's chancery courts possess such broad equity jurisdiction and powers. Historically, chancery courts have jurisdiction over the persons of infants, and those powers are not dependent upon statutory grant.

In McCord v. Ochiltree, 8 Blackf., Ind., 15, cited in State v. Grisby, 38 Ark. 406, it was held that the necessity for the existence of a power for the protection of minors was obvious, and was implied from a general grant of chancery powers. In State v. Grisby, supra, the supreme court of Arkansas summarized the law as follows:

'The jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery extends to the care of the person of the infant. * * *

'In England the prerogative of the crown as parens patriae is exercised by the Court of Chancery. In this country the State takes the place of the King, and protects infants through Chancery.'

Arkansas is one of the few remaining states with separate courts exercising exclusive equity jurisdiction. Such courts have always possessed the power, in whatever manner the question arose, of protecting and controlling the property and custody of minors. That power is broad and plenary and is not derived from statute. While applied in divorce and separation cases, its exercise is not limited to those actions but is invoked whenever and in whatever way the welfare of a child is brought before a court exercising equity powers. Such inherent power is comprehended by the Latin term 'parens patriae.'

A vast array of cases were collected by the supreme court of Iowa and the law summarized in Helton v. Crawley, 241 Iowa 296, 312, 41 N.W.2d 60, 70:

'In the law dictionaries of Bouvier, Black and Ballentine, the term parens patriae is defined as the father or parent of his county; in England, the King; in America, the people; the government is thus spoken of in relation to its duty to protect and control minor children and guard their interests. In cases involving the custody of minor children, whether it be by divorce or separation proceeding, by habeas corpus, petition to the chancellor, or other equitable proceeding, the court, as a department of the state, in thus exercising its inherent power and jurisdiction in equity, is spoken of as acting in the capacity of parens patriae. * * *'

And recently, in 1957, in the Missouri case of I$05R v. B$05R, Mo.App., 305 S.W.2d 713, 722, the prevailing view was stated with even greater specificity:

'* * * We are of the opinion that the action between father and mother in respect to custody of their minor children is not one born of the statute--rather the statute is declaratory of the law which already existed in the equity courts. From the earliest times infants were regarded as entitled to the special protection of the king as parens patriae. This protection was exercised by, and has descended through, the chancery courts. Such protective jurisdiction is 'broad, comprehensive, and plenary.' And this jurisdiction seizes and obtains once and when the child is brought before the court for any purpose and its welfare becomes involved. The child then...

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  • Custody of Miller, In re
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