Tennessee Court Rules Permanent Parenting Plan Must Be Entered with Final Divorce Decree

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed an issue regarding the parenting plan in a divorce case. In Rigsby v. Rigsby, the parties had executed a marital dissolution agreement and signed a temporary parenting plan, which was entered by the trial court in 2013. The temporary parenting plan designated the mother as the primary residential parent of their four children, with 215 days of parenting time for the mother and 150 for the father. The matter was then continued for a hearing regarding the entry of a permanent parenting plan.

In April 2014, the trial court reviewed and adopted a second temporary parenting plan, pending the hearing for the permanent plan. The court adopted the father’s proposed temporary parenting plan, which designated the father as the primary residential parent with 233 days of annual parenting time and 132 days for the mother. In a subsequent decision months later, the trial court determined that the second plan designating the father as the primary residential parent was in the best interests of the children, and it affirmed that it would constitute the permanent parenting plan. The trial court also altered the plan to give the father sole decision-making authority. The mother appealed the decision, contending that the trial court erred by failing to treat the first temporary parenting plan entered with the final divorce decree as permanent, such that any subsequent changes would require a modification hearing.

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36–6–404(a) (2014), the statute governing parenting plans, any final decree or decree of modification in an action for absolute divorce, legal separation, annulment, or separate maintenance involving a minor child shall incorporate a permanent parenting plan. Accordingly, the trial court is to make a final, permanent decision on parental responsibility when it enters the final order on divorce. Temporary parenting plans are reserved for temporary orders, pending the final hearing.

Citing this law, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found in favor of the mother, holding that every final decree in a divorce action in Tennessee involving a minor child must incorporate a permanent parenting plan. Therefore, the trial court lacked the authority to enter the initial “temporary” parenting plan with the parties’ final decree of divorce. Although the appeals court refused to void the divorce decree, it did conclude that the initial parenting plan entered with the final divorce decree in 2013 must constitute the permanent parenting plan. However, the appeals court noted that should the father file a petition to modify the parenting plan, a full evidentiary hearing regarding modification should then be conducted by the trial court.

A skilled divorce lawyer can help protect your interests in separation and divorce proceedings. The Nashville family law attorneys at MHPS provide experienced and comprehensive legal representation to individuals in a range of domestic law issues, including marital dissolution and equitable property distribution, child and spousal support, custody, and more. To consult with one of our knowledgeable attorneys regarding your divorce, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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