APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, STEPHEN F. EILPERIN, PAUL R. WEBBER III, EVELYN E. CRAWFORD QUEEN AND CURTIS E. VON KANN, JJ. [711 A2d Page 823]
Before Steadman and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Pryor,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge:
In these consolidated appeals, it is undisputed that the Superior Court, Family Division, at an earlier time, awarded appellee custody of her two children; and that appellant, appellee's husband and father of the children, was granted visitation rights. Appellant was also ordered to pay child support. It is the latter order which provides the issues that we now review. After the order for support, appellant filed a number of motions challenging the continued validity of the underlying order, and of subsequent directives from the court seeking compliance. The present appeals stem from the trial court's denial of those motions.
Although there are issues raised with regard to the procedures followed in withholding wages when payments were not made by appellant, as well as contentions surrounding an adjudication of contempt, the central and primary issue presented for our review is whether a Superior Court order for child support, properly entered initially, loses its validity when, without more, either or both parents move out of this jurisdiction and reside elsewhere.
Being unpersuaded by appellant's contentions, we affirm the trial court's rulings.
Appellant and appellee were married on January 8, 1982, in the District of Columbia. Their two children were born in the District. Except for occasional periods abroad, the entire family resided in the District until 1988. On April 27, 1988, appellee and the two children moved to her parents' home in Arkansas. On June 20, 1988, appellant filed a complaint requesting custody of the children and on June 27, 1988, also filed an action seeking divorce. Appellee, while still residing in Arkansas, filed counter pleadings. In December 1988, appellant visited the children in Arkansas and returned to the District with them on January 1, 1989. Appellant and the children then moved to Virginia shortly after their return to the District. *fn1
After a trial in Superior Court, Family Division, appellee, in March 1989, was awarded custody of the children; appellant was granted visitation rights. Appellant was also ordered to pay child support. *fn2 Appellee and the children returned to live in the District in the fall of 1989; however, in June 1993, she moved to Maryland with the children. She and the children later moved to Virginia in March 1997.
Following the 1989 ruling, the Clerk of the Court mailed orders to appellant's employer in Virginia, directing that portions of appellant's wages be withheld for child support. In May 1993, appellee initiated contempt proceedings because of appellant's failure to make the ordered payments. Appellant, in July 1993, moved to terminate child support effective June 1993, the date on which appellee and the children moved to Maryland. Additionally, he sought to quash an existing withholding order; later, in February 1994, he sought to vacate all withholding orders which might have been issued since 1989. In the latter motions, appellant asserted that the District lacked authority to serve his employer in Virginia with income withholding orders.
On June 7, 1994, the Honorable Paul R. Webber denied appellant's motions to vacate support, and motion to stop withholding of wages; he granted appellee's motion for a finding of contempt. Subsequent to these rulings, new orders of wage withholding were directed to appellant's employer in Virginia. *fn3 [711 A2d Page 824]
Appellant premises his challenge on the factual assertion, which is accurate, that since the initial entry of the order for child support, there have been periods of time, as now, where neither parent nor the children have resided in the District of Columbia. Thus, appellant's primary contention is that, under these circumstances, the District's courts have lost jurisdiction over questions of support and custody. We examine this contention in light of precedent, relevant statutes, and public policy.
Even before more recent legislation this court has held, in child custody and support cases, that once a court establishes valid personal and subject matter jurisdiction, final orders are effective and can be carried out in another state or jurisdiction. See Beckwith v. Beckwith, 355 A.2d 537, 540 (D.C. 1976), aff'd, 379 A.2d 955 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 907, 98 S.Ct. 2239, 56 L.Ed.2d 405 (1978); accord Darden v. Darden, 144 A.2d 697, 699 (D.C. 1958). Some cases, however, turn on whether jurisdiction was initially attained. See Devoto v. Devoto, 358 A.2d 312 (D.C. 1976); see also Richardson v. Richardson, 276 A.2d 231 (D.C. 1971).
Here, the trial court found that appellant filed his original claim for child custody in the District and resided in the District when the action commenced. Therefore, despite appellant's move to Virginia subsequent to commencement of this action, he had already subjected himself to personal jurisdiction. ...