Why Did the Court Change Residential Custody in this Case?

Your relationship has ended. As you process countless emotions, one concern presents the most immense challenge. You don’t have to be married to your child’s other parent to worry about the outcome. What will happen as far as your minor children? How will the court determine residential custody?

No doubt child custody is a critical issue when parents decide to split up. In case you missed it, this article provides some insight into how the court makes custody determinations. Ultimately, the goal is to act in the children’s best interests.

For further guidance, you might benefit from reading how the court ruled in a particular case. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson recently decided Haak v. Haak. Ultimately, the children’s father was named as the primary residential parent.

Father Named as Primary Residential Parent

The background information provided in the Haak matter does not indicate when the couple was married. Additionally, there are no details concerning the ages of the two minor children. That said, Samantha Audry Haak and Christopher Rodney Haak divorced in May of 2014.

At the time of the divorce, the court approved a permanent parenting plan that named Samantha as the children’s primary residential parent. Meanwhile, Christopher was awarded specified parenting time days and ordered to pay child support and health insurance.

Notably, when the couple’s divorce papers were initially signed, Samantha resided in Tennessee, and Christopher lived in Mississippi. Approximately two years later, Christopher informed the children’s mother that he intended to move to New Jersey. He originally lived in New Jersey before relocating to the south.

After receiving notice of Christopher’s intentions, Samantha brought a post-judgment motion to the court. More specifically, she requested a modification of the parenting plan and cited some issues with child support. One of Samantha’s primary concerns was that it would be expensive for the children to visit with their father in New Jersey. She asked the court to allocate transportation costs to Christopher.  Despite her concerns, Samantha did not submit a proposed parenting plan to replace the existing one.

In the meantime, Christopher had other plans. When he received the paperwork requesting a modification, he decided to make his own requests to the court. Apparently, Samantha had pending felony charges, which included possession of a controlled substance. Christopher also maintained that Samantha’s drug use posed health and safety issues to the children.

Christopher presented the court with a proposed parenting plan that named him as the primary residential parent. It also gave Samantha fifty-one days of residential parenting time.

From Mediation to Trial

As is the case with most cases involving parenting time, the court ordered the parties to mediate the matter. When no resolution was reached, the case was set for trial. At the start of trial, Samantha’s request for a modification of the parenting plan was dismissed because she did not submit a proposed parenting plan.

A great part of the trial focused on the mother’s legal issues and drug problems. Ultimately, Samantha entered into a plea agreement for her charges. Her probation officer testified that Samantha complied with the terms of the agreement and also passed all drug tests.

Meanwhile, the mother also admitted that her drug use did impact the children. She admitted that she transported her children to school when she was under the influence. Additionally, there were many times when she did not ensure that the children actually made it to classes. This resulted in truancy charges against the oldest children.

Samantha confessed that she disciplined the children by “whipp[ing] with a belt.” In response to Christopher’s objections, she stopped the practice.

In presenting the reasons that he should be named primary residential parent, Christopher advised the court that he was engaged and bought a home with his new fiancé.  The trial judge reviewed photographs of the home and determined that it was appropriate for the children.

Although Christopher submitted that neither he nor his fiancé had legal or mental health issues, his testimony changed during the course of the trial. The father admitted that he was hospitalized for bi-polar disorder and depression. However, Christopher testified that he was no longer symptomatic as far as the two diagnoses.

Material Change in Circumstances

In reviewing the issues, the court concluded that there was a material change in circumstances that justified modification of the custody and parenting plan. Ultimately, the court decided to name the father as the primary residential parent. This was based on consideration of the children’s best interests.

 Meanwhile, the trial judge decided that the plan submitted by Christopher was unduly restrictive. Christopher would have residential custody for 255 days of the year; Samantha, for 110 days.  The ruling also contained allocations for child support, transportation, and attorneys’ fees.

Samantha appealed the trial court opinion. Besides expressing concern about the financial ramifications, the mother questioned whether or not the ruling was actually in the best interests of the children.

The Appellate Court considered several factors in reviewing the trial court decision. From all appearances, it seemed that Christopher offered the children more stability. The legal opinion goes into this in more detail. In the end, the court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

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