A trial court must have subject-matter jurisdiction over a matter to hear case. Subject-matter jurisdiction in a Texas child custody case is governed by Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code. Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201(a), a court only has subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination if Texas is the child’s home state, if Texas was the child’s home state during the six months immediately before commencement of the proceeding, if another state’s courts does not have jurisdiction as a home state, or if the child’s home state court has declined jurisdiction. Subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, and the parties cannot waive it.
Mother Challenges Jurisdiction
A mother recently challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction after it issued temporary custody orders. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the father petitioned for divorce and requested a temporary custody order. The wife filed a counterpetition and asked for a custody determination. After the trial court entered temporary custody orders, however, the mother alleged it did not have jurisdiction over the custody case and asked the court to dismiss the temporary orders and pending custody suit. The parents agreed to the temporary orders at the hearing. The mother subsequently moved to dismiss the custody case, alleging the court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the custody matter. After the hearing, the trial court found the child had never lived in Texas and had lived in Japan for the six months before the father filed his petition. The court concluded Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code governed the subject-matter jurisdiction of the custody matter. The court also found the child’s “home state” under Tex. Fam. Code § 152.105(a) was not Texas, but Japan. The trial court determined it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201 and that it could not acquire it by consent of the parties.
The father appealed. He argued the Texas Family code does not invoke “true” subject-matter jurisdiction or deprive the court of jurisdiction over custody issues. The appeals court disagreed, however, noting that Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201 “invokes or relinquishes subject-matter jurisdiction in initial child custody matters. . .”