Divorce Decree Modification Relating Custody
25-411 statute provides:
A party seeking a modification of any type of custody order shall submit an affidavit or verified petition setting forth detailed facts supporting the requested modification and shall give notice, together with a copy of his affidavit, or verified petition to other parties to the proceeding, who may file opposing affidavits. the court shall deny the motion unless it finds that adequate cause for hearing the motion is established by the pleadings, in which case it shall set a date for hearing on why the requested modification should not be granted.
Subject matter jurisdiction is "'the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the particular proceedings belong . . . .'" Estes v. Superior Court, 137 Ariz. 515, 517, 672 P.2d 180, 182 (1983), quoting First Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. v. Pomona Machinery Co., 107 Ariz. 286, 288, 486 P.2d 184, 186 (1971).
The trial court is vested with subject matter jurisdiction over domestic relations matters, including child custody determinations. Ariz. Const. art. VI, 14(9); A.R.S. 25-311(A), 25-401(A), and 25-433(A); Estes, 137 Ariz. at 517, 672 P.2d at 182. And, absent certain statutory exceptions not applicable here, a trial court has continuing jurisdiction to modify a custody decree it has entered. Black v. Black, 114 Ariz. 282, 283, 560 P.2d 800, 801 (1977); Canty v. Canty, 178 Ariz. 443, 446, 874 P.2d 1000, 1003 (App. 1994).
Thus, we must determine whether 25-411 establishes an additional jurisdictional requirement before the court can modify custody.
In determining whether 25-411 is jurisdictional, we attempt to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent. Hale v. Amphitheater Sch. Dist. No. 10, 192 Ariz. 111, P18, 961 P.2d 1059, (App. 1998).
We first consider the statutory language and, if necessary, "'the context of the statute and its historical background, subject matter, effects, consequences, and purpose.'" Id. 192 Ariz. 111 at P18, 961 P.2d 1059 at P18, quoting Hampton v. Glendale Union High School Dist., 172 Ariz. 431, 434, 837 P.2d 1166, 1169 (App. 1992). We may also consider "the effect and consequences of alternative construction." Forino v. Arizona Dep't of Transp., 191 Ariz. 77, 80, 952 P.2d 315, 318 (App. 1997).
The language of 25-411 does not indicate an intent to limit the jurisdiction granted by the constitution or the jurisdictional statutes. and 25-411 was derived from 410 of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (amended 1973), 9A Pt. II U.L.A. 538 (1998) (hereinafter UMDA).
The commentary to that section clearly indicates the section is procedural. It states that
this section establishes a procedure for seeking temporary custody or a modification of a custody decree by motion supported with affidavits. the procedure is designed to result in denial of the motion without a hearing unless the court finds that the affidavits establish adequate cause for holding a hearing.
The procedure will thus tend to discourage contests over temporary custody and prevent repeated or insubstantial motions for modification.
UMDA 410 cmt., 9A Pt. II U.L.A. 539. Were we to conclude otherwise, it would permit a parent displeased with a post-hearing custody modification to challenge that decision based on a defect in the preliminary prehearing procedures.
"The administration of justice, already under great weight, needs no further burden." Taliaferro v. Taliaferro, 186 Ariz. 221, 223, 921 P.2d 21, 23 (1996) (trial court's failure to honor notice of change of judge does not deprive court of jurisdiction).
Because the requirements of 25-411 are procedural and not jurisdictional, errors in interpreting or complying with them may be reversible error, but do not affect jurisdiction.
While misconstruing a jurisdictional law is fatal to the viability of a court's decision, misinterpreting a procedural law does not void a court's decision.
The court still retains jurisdiction over that class of case. Misinterpreting a procedural matter amounts to legal error which may result in reversal by an appellate court, but subject matter jurisdiction remains unaffected by the misinterpretation. Estes, 137 Ariz. at 517, 672 P.2d at 182.