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Child Support Modification: Jurisdiction – Georgia Case Law Update

On November 13, 2008, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Kean v. Marshall (A08A0828) regarding the issue of proper jurisdiction for a child support modification action. The original child support Order was in Alabama, but the Mother sought to record and modify the Order in Georgia pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). The Mother filed her Petition in Henry County, Georgia, contending that the Father resided there and was, therefore, subject to jurisdiction. The trial court denied the Father’s motion to dismiss the action due to lack of jurisdiction and entered an Order modifying the child support amount.

The Court of Appeals reversed this ruling finding that the evidence reflected that the Father was domiciled in Alabama. The Court of Appeals placed emphasis on the fact that the Father “was registered to vote in Alabama, has always paid Alabama income taxes, has an Alabama driver’s license, and cares for his elderly father in Alabama.” There was also extensive evidence that the Father considered Alabama to be his home and intended to remain there, despite his military placement. Though the Mother argued that he resided in Georgia because he spent time there in the military and entered into an apartment lease while he was there, the Court of Appeals specifically found that the term “reside” does not mean “domiciled,” and that a person’s domicile is the place where the person resides with an intent to remain permanently or for an indefinite period of time. In reversing the trial court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals held that “[t]he proper focus is whether the record contained evidence that [the Father] took any action to change his residence from Alabama to Georgia, and the record is devoid of evidence showing any such action.”

Interestingly, in this case, the Order modifying child support was based upon an agreement by the parties with the Father reserving his right to appeal based on lack of jurisdiction.

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