Goff v. Goff, No. 2003-SC-000477-DG.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
Writing for the CourtLambert
Citation172 S.W.3d 352
PartiesTerry GOFF Appellant, v. Laura Andrews GOFF Appellee.
Decision Date22 September 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2003-SC-000477-DG.
172 S.W.3d 352
Terry GOFF Appellant,
v.
Laura Andrews GOFF Appellee.
No. 2003-SC-000477-DG.
Supreme Court of Kentucky.
September 22, 2005.

Page 353

Wesley V. Milliken, Milliken Law Firm, Bowling Green, KY, Counsel for Appellant.

Laura Andrews Goff, Franklin, TN, Counsel for Appellee.

OPinion of the Court by Justice LAMBERT.


Where applicable, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act1 (UCCJA) and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act2 (PKPA) allow Kentucky courts to exercise jurisdiction over child custody cases or jurisdiction to enforce foreign custody judgments where no other state has asserted jurisdiction or another state has declined to exercise jurisdiction.

Terry Goff and Laura Goff were married in Wilson County, Tennessee on June 17, 1996. At that time, they purchased a home in Nashville, Tennessee. Less than one month after the marriage, July 10, 1996, Mr. Goff filed a petition for annulment of the marriage in the Warren [Kentucky] Circuit Court.3 Ms. Goff continued living in the marital home in Nashville, and Mr. Goff resided in Warren County, Kentucky.

On October 3, 1996, Ms. Goff filed for divorce and other relief in Davidson County, Tennessee. On October 13, 1996, Ms. Goff gave birth in Nashville, Tennessee. On October 15, 1996, Mr. Goff filed an amended petition in Kentucky seeking dissolution of the marriage. On December 6, 1996, the Warren Circuit Court entered an order striking Ms. Goff's motion to dismiss her request to stay the divorce proceeding on the grounds that she intentionally did not appear for the hearing.

Page 354

On January 17, 1997, the Davidson County, Tennessee court dismissed Ms. Goff's claim for child support pendente lite and her other claims against Mr. Goff on the basis that there was a pending dissolution action in Kentucky.4 At that time the child had been living exclusively in Tennessee since her birth, approximately three months.

On January 29, 1997, Mr. Goff filed a motion in the Warren Circuit Court to set child support, wherein he acknowledged that Ms. Goff was the "fit and proper custodian" of the minor child. In his motion, Mr. Goff stated that Kentucky had jurisdiction to set his child support obligation under Gaines v. Gaines.5 On February 18, 1997, the parties reached a settlement in the Kentucky dissolution action. An agreed decree of dissolution of marriage ("Agreement") was prepared by the parties, signed by the court, and entered on March 3, 1997. In the Agreement, Ms. Goff consented to the "jurisdiction of this Court for the purpose of resolving her marriage to the Petitioner and resolving all issues arising out of that marriage." The Agreement contained recitals granting custody of the child to Ms. Goff with a provision allowing Mr. Goff reasonable visitation "at times and places to be agreed upon by the parties." In addition to custody, it was agreed that Mr. Goff would pay child support.

The parties, however, returned to court on a number of occasions to litigate various disputes regarding child support and visitation. In April 1999, Ms. Goff filed a motion seeking past-due child support and seeking to increase child support. By order entered on June 4, 1999, the court denied the motion to increase child support, but ordered Mr. Goff to pay an arrearage of $2,800.00. In April of 2000, a dispute arose between the parties regarding visitation. On May 12, 2000, the trial court resolved the matter by entering a formal visitation order and schedule. In response to further disputes over visitation, the trial court entered a supplemental order on June 14, 2000.

Additional motions were filed disputing visitation from May through October of 2000. In August of 2000, Mr. Goff filed a motion seeking joint custody of the child. He subsequently asked the court to order a joint custody evaluation. On October 30, 2000, Ms. Goff filed a motion to terminate Mr. Goff's visitation with the child, alleging that his behavior had subjected the child to emotional trauma. She also filed a motion to hold Mr. Goff in contempt after he failed to return the child from visitation as scheduled.

On November 29, 2000, Ms. Goff filed a petition to register a foreign decree in Williamson County, Tennessee, asserting that Tennessee had jurisdiction over custody matters. On April 2, 2001, a trial was held in the court of Williamson County, Tennessee. During this trial, the Kentucky custody decree was registered as a foreign decree, and the Tennessee court granted modification of the original custody decree.

On September 6, 2001, the Warren County Family Court issued an order nullifying the original custody decision. The order denied Mr. Goff's request for modification of custody and found that the original custody determination was void. The family court reasoned that (1) Kentucky

Page 355

was not the child's home state six months before or after the commencement of the divorce proceedings; (2) the child did not have significant contacts with Kentucky nor was there substantial evidence concerning the child's present or future care, protection, training and personal relationships; (3) the child is not present in this state due to abandonment, and no emergency situation exists; and (4) Tennessee appears to have jurisdiction over the matter and is actively asserting jurisdiction. In sum, the court held that Kentucky lacked original jurisdiction over the custody matter and that Kentucky would defer to Tennessee to enter a custody order.

On May 30, 2003, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed in part the decision of the Warren Family Court as to lack of jurisdiction of the original 1997 dissolution action whereby the Warren Circuit Court took jurisdiction. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, holding that since the child resided outside of Kentucky for more than six months, Kentucky no longer had continuing jurisdiction to modify custody. Although the Court of Appeals noted this was clearly not the child's home state, it found original jurisdiction under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1738A(c)(2)(d) of the PKPA and subsection (d) of KRS 403.420(1) of the UCCJA because no other state asserted jurisdiction or had declined jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals characterized the controlling question as "whether a Tennessee court was asserting jurisdiction when the original decree was entered in 1997." The Court of Appeals concluded that the Davidson County, Tennessee, court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the custody matter in 1997 by dismissing Ms. Goff's dissolution action in favor of the Kentucky action. Thus, the basis of the Court of Appeal's holding was that another state court (Tennessee) had declined jurisdiction when it dismissed a pending child support claim in favor of the Kentucky action.

This Court granted discretionary review to decide the following two issues concerning the UCCJA and PKPA: (1) whether there was original jurisdiction in the Warren Circuit Court to enter a custody order in the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, as agreed upon by the parties, and (2) whether that court has continuing jurisdiction to modify the custody order.

Ms. Goff argues that the Kentucky trial court's subsequent dismissal of the child custody action for lack of jurisdiction was proper. She claims that she and the child had never resided in Kentucky and were residents of Tennessee at all times. She claims that the UCCJA did not confer jurisdiction because Kentucky had no significant connection with the child. In response to KRS 403.420(1)(d) jurisdiction, she argues that Tennessee did not decline jurisdiction in the matter and is now asserting jurisdiction over the child custody matter, which she says is support for the decision of the Kentucky trial court to acknowledge that it had no jurisdiction. Our review reveals that the Tennessee court denied Ms. Goff's motion for child support pendente lite on grounds that a prior suit was pending, and dismissed her entire claim based on the pending Kentucky action. The Court made no specific mention of child custody in the order dismissing.

At the time this dispute began, the UCCJA governed all issues surrounding jurisdiction over child custody matters.6 During the 2004 regular session of the General Assembly, however, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), KRS 403.800-880, replaced

Page 356

the UCCJA to bring Kentucky law in line with the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act.7 However, the now superseded UCCJA governs this matter as it was the law at the inception of this litigation.8

A fundamental purpose of the UCCJA is to govern child custody proceedings. It specifically states that its purpose is to avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict with other states in child custody matters.9 The UCCJA is a threshold consideration and it is clear that a change in custody shall not be entertained unless the circumstances covered by the UCCJA are present.10 The requirements for jurisdiction under the UCCJA are as follows:

A court of this state which is competent to decide child custody matters has jurisdiction to make a child custody determination by initial or modification decree if:

(a) This state is the home state of the child at the time of commencement of the proceeding, or had been the child's home state within six (6) months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state because of his removal or retention by a person claiming his custody or for other reasons, and a parent or person acting as parent continues to live in this state; or

(b) It is in the best interest of the child that a court of this state assume jurisdiction because the child and his parents, or the child and at least one (1) contestant, have a significant connection with this state, and there is available in this state substantial evidence concerning the child's present or future care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or

Page 357

(c) The child is...

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8 practice notes
  • Hisle v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County, No. 2006-CA-001733-MR.
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • 1 Febrero 2008
    ...S.W.3d at 738 (quoting Duncan v. O'Nan, 451 S.W.2d 626, 631 (Ky.1970)). See also Privett v. Clendenin, 52 S.W.3d at 531; Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky.2005); State v. Mandicino, 509 N.W.2d at 483 (stating parties cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on a court where it has not ......
  • Goodlett v. Brittain, NOS. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 23 Febrero 2018
    ...(Ky. App. 2008). Therefore, the issue may be raised at any time, including on the Court’s own motion. Id. at 431. See also Goff v. Goff , 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky. 2005), and Duncan v. O'Nan , 451 S.W.2d 626, 631 (Ky. 1970). In the present case, however, the trial court did not act outside o......
  • Rankin v. Coffman, No. 2006-CA-001559-ME (Ky. App. 4/27/2007), No. 2006-CA-001559-ME.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 27 Abril 2007
    ...Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 12.08(3). See also Doe v. Golden & Walters, PLLC, 173 S.W.3d 260, 270 (Ky.App. 2005); Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky. 2005); Gullett v. Gullett, 992 S.W.2d 866, 868 (Ky.App. 1999); and Commonwealth, Department of Highways v. Berryman, 363 S.W.2d 525,......
  • Biggs v. Biggs, No. 2008-CA-001219-ME.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 4 Diciembre 2009
    ...for one year, it is not necessary for a child to reside in the Commonwealth in order for Kentucky to retain jurisdiction. Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky.2005). While Jesse has been in Colorado, his father remained a Kentucky resident. The record reveals that Jesse had lengthy visits ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Hisle v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County, No. 2006-CA-001733-MR.
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • 1 Febrero 2008
    ...S.W.3d at 738 (quoting Duncan v. O'Nan, 451 S.W.2d 626, 631 (Ky.1970)). See also Privett v. Clendenin, 52 S.W.3d at 531; Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky.2005); State v. Mandicino, 509 N.W.2d at 483 (stating parties cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on a court where it has not ......
  • Goodlett v. Brittain, NOS. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 23 Febrero 2018
    ...(Ky. App. 2008). Therefore, the issue may be raised at any time, including on the Court’s own motion. Id. at 431. See also Goff v. Goff , 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky. 2005), and Duncan v. O'Nan , 451 S.W.2d 626, 631 (Ky. 1970). In the present case, however, the trial court did not act outside o......
  • Rankin v. Coffman, No. 2006-CA-001559-ME (Ky. App. 4/27/2007), No. 2006-CA-001559-ME.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 27 Abril 2007
    ...Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 12.08(3). See also Doe v. Golden & Walters, PLLC, 173 S.W.3d 260, 270 (Ky.App. 2005); Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky. 2005); Gullett v. Gullett, 992 S.W.2d 866, 868 (Ky.App. 1999); and Commonwealth, Department of Highways v. Berryman, 363 S.W.2d 525,......
  • Biggs v. Biggs, No. 2008-CA-001219-ME.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • 4 Diciembre 2009
    ...for one year, it is not necessary for a child to reside in the Commonwealth in order for Kentucky to retain jurisdiction. Goff v. Goff, 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky.2005). While Jesse has been in Colorado, his father remained a Kentucky resident. The record reveals that Jesse had lengthy visits ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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