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DeGroot v. DeGroot

January 3, 2008

MARY CONNOLE DEGROOT, APPELLANT,
v.
ERNSTW. DEGROOT, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DRB1320-99) (Hon. Odessa F. Vincent, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, Associate Judge

Argued September 5, 2007

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, FISHER, Associate Judge, and NEWMAN, Senior Judge.

Appellee Ernst DeGroot divorced appellant Mary Connole*fn1 in August 1999 in the District of Columbia. In December 2005, after the parties and their children moved away from the District, Ms. Connole asked the Superior Court to modify the divorce decree to include an order of child support. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because neither the parents nor their children reside in the District.

We hold that the court had continuing subject matter jurisdiction to enter an order for child support. The doctrine of continuing jurisdiction has a long history in the District, and it has been codified. See D.C. Code § 16-914.01 (2007 Supp.). Nothing in the enactment of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act of 1996 ("UIFSA"), see D.C. Code §§ 46-301.01 to 46-309.01 (2001 & 2007 Supp.), altered the power of the court to hear this case. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual and Procedural Background*fn2

Mary Connole married Ernst DeGroot in November 1984 in the District of Columbia. The couple had two children, both of whom were born here. After living outside of the District for a few years, the family moved back to this jurisdiction, but the parents separated in 1997.

Mr. DeGroot divorced Ms. Connole in August 1999. The divorce decree awarded Ms. Connole "permanent custody" of the couple's minor children, and the Superior Court granted Mr. DeGroot "reasonable rights of visitation." Neither party asked the court to order child support. Rather, the decree provided that "[t]his issue shall remain open [i]f either party elects to seek such relief in the future."Mr. DeGroot's attorney sent a letter to Ms. Connole (who was then Mrs. DeGroot) in April 1999, confirming that the couple had "decided between [them]selves about the arrangements for support."

After the separation, Ms. Connole moved with the children to Maryland; Mr. DeGroot later moved to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Neither Ms. Connole, nor Mr. DeGroot, nor either of the children presently lives in the District.

Mr. DeGroot regularly provided child support to Ms. Connole starting in 1998. Although the amounts varied in the early years after the separation, from February 2000 until September 2004, Mr. DeGroot paid six hundred dollars to Ms. Connole every month. In September 2004, shortly before the older child turned nineteen, Mr. DeGroot unilaterally reduced his child support payments to three hundred dollars per month.

In December 2005, Ms. Connole filed in the Superior Court a Motion to Modify Judgment of Absolute Divorce by Clarifying Clerical Error and Awarding Child Support.

Mr. DeGroot opposed the modification, and the Superior Court held a status hearing on February 15, 2006. When it discovered that the parties and the children no longer resided in the District, the trial court raised sua sponte the question of its subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the issue of child support.

After accepting briefs on the jurisdictional issue, the trial court denied the motion to modify judgment, ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. (Mr. DeGroot did not challenge the court's jurisdiction over his person.) Concluding that UIFSA governed its jurisdiction in the matter, the court held that, in order for it "to have jurisdiction to enter a child support order, one of the relevant parties, i.e., the obligee, the obligor, or the children, must reside in the District of Columbia."Because none of these persons resided in the District, the court denied Ms. Connole's motion.This appeal followed.

II. Discussion

"The issue of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. Therefore, our standard of review is de novo." American University in Dubai v. District of Columbia Education ...


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