A modification of a child custody or visitation schedule typically requires approval by a court if the parents don’t agree to the terms. In a March 29, 2017 case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed a matter involving the modification of an agreed parenting plan under which the child’s mother was the primary residential parent. After the father obtained an injunction to prevent the mother from homeschooling the child, the mother sought to obtain sole decision-making authority. The father responded by filing a petition to be named the primary residential parent and sole decision-maker. The juvenile court granted the father’s request, limited the mother’s visitation, and enjoined her from using social media and making disparaging remarks about the father. The mother brought the subsequent appeal.
In Tennessee, the threshold issue for the court in considering a petition to modify a parenting arrangement is whether a material change in circumstances has occurred. If the court finds that a material change in circumstances does exist, it will go on to consider whether a modification is in the child’s best interest. When determining the child’s best interest, the court is required to consider a non-exclusive list of factors enumerated by law.
In the case at issue, the appeals court concluded that several of the statutory factors favored the designation of the father as the primary residential parent. Reviewing the evidence, the court pointed to the mother’s unwillingness to cooperate with the father regarding educational decisions and her history of disregarding the orders of the court. The court also observed that the mother’s chronic fatigue episodes often left her unable to get out of bed, and her mental instability as evidenced by the condition of her home, which the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services found to be inappropriate for raising a child.
Since the parents were unable to exercise joint decision-making, the court further held that it was also in the child’s best interest to grant the father sole decision-making authority. Although the court recognized that the child had a strong bond with the mother and had primarily resided with her, the court concluded that the father demonstrated a greater willingness to support the child’s relationship with both parents.
The mother also challenged the order limiting visitation with the child, which would gradually transition from supervised to unsupervised visits and allow for increased parenting time only after she improved the condition of her home. The appeals court held that under the circumstances, supervised visitation was appropriate for a time, due to the mother’s mental instability, her tendency to discuss the custody dispute and other sensitive topics with the child, and the necessity of improving the condition of her home.
Protecting your interests in parenting time both during and after a divorce is important. The child support attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard can represent Nashville residents and others who are seeking guidance regarding a divorce or family law matter. Schedule an initial consultation with a Nashville custody attorney by calling (615) 800-7096 or completing our online contact form.