Sharing child custody and parenting decisions after a divorce can be difficult. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently considered the legal aspects involved in these situations in a January 31, 2017 opinion. The case reached the court after the father appealed a lower court order awarding the mother sole decision-making authority regarding their four children’s religious upbringing and designating that the children specifically attend the mother’s church.
After the parties divorced in 2008, their parenting plan designated the mother as the primary residential parent and gave both parents joint decision-making authority with respect to the children’s upbringing. The parties subsequently became engaged in contentious litigation concerning the children, particularly with respect to their religious upbringing. The court appointed a guardian ad litem for the children and required the parents to submit to a psychological evaluation. After a hearing, the court modified the parenting plan, giving the mother sole decision-making authority over the children’s religious upbringing.
Despite the parenting plan, the father continued to take the children to his church, sometimes for several hours at a time, which caused the children anxiety. In response, the mother filed another motion for the court to modify its order, reflecting that the father should not force the children to practice his religious beliefs. The court then entered an order providing that the children exclusively attend the mother’s church.
The father appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that the evidence did not support the restriction ordered by the trial court. On appeal, the court first examined whether awarding the mother sole decision-making authority regarding the children’s religious upbringing was a proper exercise of the court’s discretion. In general, if the parents cannot agree on matters of great importance concerning the welfare of their minor children, the primary decision-making authority will be awarded to one of the parents.
After reviewing the record, the appeals court noted the extent of disagreement between the parties concerning the spiritual upbringing of the children, the effect of the parties’ conflict on the emotional health of the kids, and the anxiety the children experienced when they were required to attend the father’s church. The court concluded that these observations and recommendations from the children’s therapist provided a sufficient evidentiary basis to grant to the mother sole decision-making authority with respect to the children’s religious upbringing. The court further found that in order to promote stability in this area of the children’s lives, as well as to lessen the amount of disagreement between the parents, the trial court did not err in providing such authority to the mother. The appeals court did, however, modify the order by removing the specific requirement that the children attend the mother’s church, explaining that granting her sole decision-making authority accomplished her objective.
If you are concerned about a parenting decision that has affected the well-being of your child, a family law attorney can advise you of your legal options. The Nashville divorce lawyers at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard have substantial experience in a range of child custody and parenting matters and can provide the guidance that you need. To learn more, contact us at (615) 800-7096 or online and schedule an appointment with one of our skilled attorneys.