Tennessee Court of Appeals Holds Local Rules Regarding Temporary Parenting Plan Conflict with State Statutes

In cases of divorce involving minor children, state and local laws often set forth requirements that the parties submit a temporary parenting plan. The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted a conflict between a particular county’s local rule and state divorce laws in Smalling v. Smalling. In circumstances when a local rule conflicts with a state or general law, the appeals court held that the general law controls.

The case involved a fairly amicable divorce between husband and wife. The husband initially filed the proceeding for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. In response, the wife acknowledged that irreconcilable differences prevented the parties from remaining married. In addition, the wife’s answer requested expedited proceedings, since the divorce was uncontested. The wife even requested that a hearing be held without her attendance.  The parties executed a dissolution agreement and a permanent parenting plan as to their one minor child.

Shortly thereafter, in an attempt to comply with the county’s local rules of court, the husband filed a proposed temporary parenting plan that incorporated the parties’ previously created permanent parenting plan. However, the trial court refused to accept the plan and ceased proceedings until an official temporary parenting plan, in accordance with the court’s local rules, was filed. The husband then sought to appeal the trial court’s judgment.

The appeals court first analyzed whether the trial court’s local rules mandated the filing of a temporary parenting plan if the divorce and parenting arrangements were uncontested. The appellate court also examined whether the local rules conflicted with Tennessee state laws regarding parenting plans. The final issue considered by the appellate court was whether the husband’s proposed plan nonetheless complied with the requirements under the local rules. The court first found that the local rules allowed no exceptions to filing a temporary parenting plan, even when the matter is uncontested. However, the applicable state law provides that no written temporary parenting plan is required if the parties have already agreed on a plan.

As such, the appeals court found that the local rule contradicted the state statute. Tennessee Supreme Court rules provide that any local rule that contradicts a statue or procedural rule promulgated by the Supreme Court is to be considered invalid. Moreover, long-standing case law prohibits trial courts from adopting local rules that conflict with general laws. The circumstances of the case at bar, in which the parties were in complete agreement, did not require a temporary parenting plan.

Moreover, the appeals court held that the husband’s proposed temporary parenting plan, which incorporated the parties’ agreed-upon permanent parenting plan, nonetheless complied with the local rule. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order and directed the lower court to resume proceedings.

If you or someone you know is having difficulty navigating legal proceedings regarding divorce, child custody, visitation, or support, contact the Nashville family law lawyers at MHPS. Even in uncontested proceedings, legal representation may be necessary. To discuss the facts of your case, contact us online or call (615) 800-7096.

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