A.A.R. was born to petitioner-mother (mother) and
respondent-father (father) in Massachusetts in 2001. Mother
testified that she filed a petition in a Massachusetts court to
establish paternity. On 22 June 2004, the Massachusetts Probate
and Family Court entered an order giving mother permission to
remove the child from Massachusetts to North Carolina and requiring
the parties to divide equally the costs associated with the child's
traveling to Massachusetts for visitation with father. The order
also required father to pay $100.00 per month in child support andgranted him visitation. Mother testified that there has been no
additional actions taken with respect to the 22 June 2004 order.
On 9 May 2006, mother filed a petition to terminate the
parental rights of father to A.A.R. in the District Court of Onslow
County, North Carolina. As grounds for termination, mother alleged
that father had neglected and willfully abandoned A.A.R. and that
he had failed to pay child support as ordered. On 29 September
2006, the trial court conducted a hearing on the termination
petition, and on 6 November 2006, the trial court entered a written
order terminating father's parental rights.
In his appeal of the termination order, father raises several
assignments of error. However, before reviewing the merits of
father's arguments, we address the issue of subject matter
jurisdiction. [A] court has inherent power to inquire into, and
determine, whether it has jurisdiction and to dismiss an action ex
when subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Reece v.
, 138 N.C. App. 703, 704, 531 S.E.2d 881, 882, disc. review
, 352 N.C. 676, 545 S.E.2d 428 (2000).
The North Carolina General Statutes state a trial court has
exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and
determine any petition or motion relating to
termination of parental rights to any juvenile
who resides in, is found in, or is in the
legal or actual custody of a county department
of social services or licensed child-placing
agency in the district at the time of filing
of the petition or motion.N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1101 (2005). Here, the petition stated that
mother and A.A.R. were residents of Onslow County. In addition,
father did not contest the trial court's finding that A.A.R. and
mother were residents of Onslow County. As such, N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 7B-1101 is satisfied. The statute further requires that the
trial court comply with the jurisdictional provisions of the
Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
at N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 50A-201, -203, and -204 (2005). N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-1101.
Section 50A-201 addresses subject matter jurisdiction over an
initial child-custody determination. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-201.
An initial determination is defined by statute as the first
child-custody determination concerning a particular child. N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 50A-102(8) (2005). Here, the record reflects that the
initial custody determination was made by a Massachusetts court,
making § 50A-201 inapplicable. Section 50A-204 is also inapplicable
to the instant case because it provides North Carolina with
temporary emergency jurisdiction. See
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-204.
However, the remaining statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-203,
outlines the requirements for a North Carolina court to have
jurisdiction to modify an existing child-custody determination of
another state. Id.
In this case, the temporary custody order, the
only custody order entered by the Massachusetts court on 22 June
2004, appears to have been still in effect at the time that the
termination petition was filed. A North Carolina court cannotmodify a child-custody determination made by another state unless
one of the following two requirements are met:
(1) The court of the other state determines
it no longer has exclusive, continuing
jurisdiction under G.S. 50A-202 or that a
court of this State would be a more
convenient forum under G.S. 50A-207; or
(2) A court of this State or a court of the
other state determines that the child,
the child's parents, and any person
acting as a parent do not presently
reside in the other state.
Upon review of the record in this case, we find no order from
a Massachusetts court determining either that Massachusetts no
longer has jurisdiction or that North Carolina would be a more
convenient forum, such that § 50A-203(1) would be satisfied. In
addition, the record reflects that father remains a resident of
Massachusetts, thereby precluding any finding by the trial court
that § 50A-203(2) was satisfied. Accordingly, we conclude that the
trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear a petition
for termination of father's parental rights and to enter the
termination order. See In re N.R.M., T.F.M.
, 165 N.C. App. 294,
301, 598 S.E.2d 147, 151 (2004).
For the foregoing reasons, the order of the trial court must
be vacated and this case remanded to the Onslow County District
Court for entry of an order dismissing mother's action. Because we
resolve this appeal on the basis of lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, we do not address the merits of father's remaining
arguments. Vacated and remanded.
Judges WYNN and CALABRIA concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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