Family Law — Pro Se Errors Defeat Appeal of UCCJEA Dismissal

Pro Se Errors Defeat Appeal of UCCJEA Dismissal

By Deborah Elkins
Published: May 16, 2011

Tags: , ,

The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of motions to modify custody and support orders for lack of jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) where the pro se appellant’s procedural errors preclude consideration of his assignments of error.

In 2008, the trial court awarded appellant joint legal custody of two children and physical custody of one minor child now living in Florida. The trial court entered a child support order in 2009 and in 2010 the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court at the parties’ request entered orders regarding custody and support. The trial court on appeal vacated these orders for lack of jurisdiction under UCCJEA but awarded attorney’s fees and costs to the guardian ad litem.

Appellant assigns six errors, five of which cannot be considered.

On the jurisdictional issue, the trial court correctly applied the statutes. Neither parents nor the minor child have lived in Virginia for years. The statutes require continuing presence in Virginia, jurisdiction for an initial custody determination (Va. Code § 20-146.12), or abuse or abandonment for temporary emergency jurisdiction (Va. Code § 20-146.15). Virginia is not the minor child’s “home state” as defined in the Act.

Appellant’s remaining five assignments fail for noncompliance with our rules. Townes v. Commonwealth, 234 Va. 307 (1987), holds that pro se litigants are no less bound by the rules of procedure and substantive law than a defendant represented by counsel. Appellant did not file a motion to reconsider giving the trial court a chance to rule on his objections asserting ex parte communications with the guardian at litem, to the award of attorney’s fees and costs and lack of specificity what orders are in effect. Appellant did not raise his argument based on the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act in the trial court. Defendant cites no authorities supporting his assignment of error to the denial of his motion to show cause. Appellant claims that in 2000 the other parent moved the other child out of Virginia without complying with the divorce decree requirement for 30 days prior notice to the JDR court. We find appellant’s failure to comply with Rule 5A:20 (e) is significant so we will not consider this assignment of error.

Sowers v. Walker (Per Curiam) No. 2339-10-3, May 10, 2011, Salem Cir. Ct. (Swanson) Thomas Lee Sowers, pro se; for appellant. VLW 011-7-120(UP), 6 pp.

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Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.
Charlottesville, Virginia



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One Response to Family Law — Pro Se Errors Defeat Appeal of UCCJEA Dismissal

  1. Shane says:

    Divorce is hard on children and can definitely leave a scar. It's important to keep the kids first even while dealing with the stress of a divorce. Despite spousal difficulties, it's critical to keep the children in mind, keep arguing to a minimum and inform the children of what is going on.Divorce Lawyers Virginia

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