By Daniel Horwitz:
After a short marriage, Kevin Turner and Stephanie Turner divorced on October 19, 2000. Full custody of their two children was awarded to Mr. Turner, and Mrs. Turner was directed to pay Mr. Turner child support. However, the couple’s divorce decree also provided that Mrs. Turner was entitled to visitation “during such periods of visitation as may be awarded.”
By July 2001, Mrs. Turner had left Tennessee and had lost all contact with Mr. Turner and their children. Mrs. Turner also failed to pay Mr. Turner any child support, and she stopped seeking visitation. Consequently, Mr. Turner filed a petition to terminate Mrs. Turner’s parental rights over their children. Because Mrs. Turner had moved, however, the summons that was issued to alert her of Mr. Turner’s petition was returned undelivered.
Having been unable to provide Mrs. Turner with personal service of his petition to terminate her parental rights, Mr. Turner attempted to give Mrs. Turner “constructive” notice of his petition by publication. Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 21–1–203(a)(5), personal service is not required “[w]hen the residence of the defendant is unknown and cannot be ascertained upon diligent inquiry.” However, to be excused from the personal service requirement, a litigant must describe his diligent efforts to provide personal service under oath or in a separate affidavit. Additionally, a separate statute that applies specifically to parental termination proceedings provides that any request to authorize constructive notice through publication “shall be accompanied by an affidavit of the petitioners or their legal counsel attesting, in detail, to all efforts to determine the identity and whereabouts of the part[y] against whom substituted service is sought.” Continue reading Tennessee Supreme Court voids judgment for lack of personal jurisdiction; establishes standard for determining when void judgments are still binding.