Restrictions on Father’s Activities During Parenting Time Reversed by Tennessee Appeals Court

You are entitled to due process of law in matters concerning your right to parent your children.  This generally means that before you can be deprived of your parenting rights, you must be allowed a meaningful opportunity to object.  In a recent case involving a Tennessee child custody dispute, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed whether a father was unfairly restricted by a Permanent Parenting Plan ordered by the trial court without an evidentiary hearing.

The parties in the case had two children born during their marriage and were in the process of divorce.  A hearing was held before the trial court on the matter of the Final Decree of Divorce and the Permanent Parenting Plan, during which it was revealed that the father was in a relationship with a man.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court modified the Final Decree of Divorce with handwritten injunctions, some of which applied only to the father.  Specifically, the restrictions prohibited the father from having dating partners around the children at any time and also prohibited homosexual activity around the children.

On appeal, the issue for the court was whether the father was deprived of due process by not being afforded a meaningful evidentiary hearing before substantive changes were made to the agreed-upon Final Decree of Divorce and Permanent Parenting Plan.  The court concluded that the injunctions restrained the father’s liberty under both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution, which thus provide that the government may not deprive an individual of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  The court also explained that due process requires appropriate notice in order to afford the litigant the opportunity to be prepared to present evidence in addition to the opportunity for a meaningful hearing.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the parties should have been provided notice before imposing generalized “paramour” and “lifestyle” restrictions so that they could be prepared to present evidence on the issue.

The court went on to note that restraints on visitation, such as those imposed by the trial court on the father’s activities and guests, should be well-defined.  Furthermore, the restraints must involve conduct that competent evidence shows could cause harm to the children.  Finally, in its opinion, the appeals court explained that both gay parents and heterosexual parents are subject to the same laws.  Accordingly, on remand, the trial court should follow the same principles for placing restrictions on gay parents that they use on any parents.  That is, trial courts are to grant such rights of visitation as will enable the child and the non-custodial parent to maintain a parent-child relationship unless the court finds that visitation is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health.

The Nashville family law attorneys at MHPS handle disputes related to divorce, spousal support and child support, child custody, adoption, and other domestic matters.  We understand that family relationships are important, and we work tirelessly to achieve the objectives of our clients through mediation and litigation.  To discuss your concerns with one of our child custody lawyers, schedule an appointment by calling (615) 800-7096 or contacting us online.

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