July 2020 | No. E2018-01883-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2020)

In re Easton (Tennessee 2020)

This appeal turns on the procedural differences between an action for dependency/neglect as opposed to an action for a paternity/visitation. The biological father of this child started this action by filing, pro se, a dependency/neglect petition in juvenile court, in which he clearly pled for custody of the child or alternatively, visitation without an obligation for support. After several hearings, the juvenile court entered an order naming the father the primary residential parent. The mother appealed to the circuit court, which has jurisdiction over appeals of dependency/neglect actions. The father motioned for the juvenile court to amend the final order to reflect that the proceeding was one for paternity and visitation. The juvenile court entered an amended order. The father then filed to dismiss the mother’s appeal in circuit court for a lack of jurisdiction in that appeals from paternity/visitation orders must be made to the court of appeals. The circuit court granted the motion and dismissed the mother’s appeal. She appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals upheld the dismissal. First, it found the juvenile court had authority to correct its order. The proceeding had been treated as one for paternity and support all along. The title of the petition had no bearing on the nature of the proceeding. Appeals from paternity and visitation orders must be taken to the court of appeals. Therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed the mother’s appeal.

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