Where the trial court awarded appellees sole custody of a minor child, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear appellants’ appeal after the child’s 18th birthday.
A juvenile and domestic relations district court order, dated Sept. 20, 2018, awarded appellees sole physical custody of C.B., appellants’ biological daughter. Appellants noted their appeal on Sept. 28. In November 2018, C.B. turned 18 years old. In January, 2019, appellees moved to dismiss the case because C.B. was no longer a minor.
Appellants argued that the case “was not moot due to the possibility of adverse effects that could extend past C.B.’s 18th birthday. They also suggested that the circuit court retained jurisdiction despite the fact that C.B. was no longer a minor.
“The circuit court held that no relief could be granted and that it lacked jurisdiction because C.B. had turned eighteen. Based on this holding, the court dismissed the case.”
“The appellants contend that the case was not rendered moot when C.B. turned eighteen because they face continuing collateral consequences from the decision and relief is available. They suggest that a ruling that the challenged J&DR custody order remains valid may ‘jeopardize’ their ‘standing in the law with regard to their remaining minor children.’ In addition, the appellants contend that another collateral consequence is the potential to deprive them of tax benefits.”
Once a child reaches the age of majority, custody is no longer an issue. But appellants do not seek custody. Instead, they first focus on the possibility that if the custody order remains valid, it could have an adverse effect on their “legal relationship” with their other children.
Any “adverse effect” is speculative based on the record. There is no evidence that the social services department “has or will take any action regarding the other two children. Further, a circuit court is required to consider a plethora of factors in assessing child custody. … That court must then weigh all of the facts in order to reach the ultimate conclusion regarding legal custody. … Nothing in the existing record supports the appellants’ purely hypothetical claim.”
“The appellants argue that the custody order could have negative income tax consequences by divesting them of their ability to claim C.B. as a dependent and to make use of the earned income credit.
“A taxpayer may claim an exemption for a dependent for income tax purposes. … A child can be a dependent if he or she is a ‘qualifying child.’ … Similarly, the earned income credit calculation is affected by ‘qualifying’ children. … A qualifying child must live with the taxpayer for more than half of the taxable year. … That child must also be younger than nineteen at the end of the calendar year or be a student younger than twenty-four. …
“C.B. turned eighteen years old in 2018. She was eligible to be a qualifying child for dependency and earned income purposes that year. However, going forward, any hypothetical change to the custody order could not change with whom she lived in 2018. Since C.B. had to actually reside with the appellants in order for them to claim her as a qualifying child, the appellants’ claim of adverse tax consequences stemming from her custody status is also moot. …
“C.B. could possibly be a qualifying child until the age of twenty-four if she is a student, but after she reached majority at the age of eighteen years, no person has custody of her, and her living arrangements are no longer controlled by the J&DR order. Therefore, we fail to see how the J&DR custody order could possibly impact her status as a qualifying child past age eighteen.”
This case is moot. The trial court’s dismissal is affirmed.
Brown v. Cerniglia, Record No. 0330-19-4, Dec. 27, 2019. CAV (Decker) from Prince William Cir. Ct. (Hudson). Craig A. Brown for appellants, Norman A. Thomas for appellees. VLW 019-7-240, 9 pp. Unpublished.