Posted by Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC on March 15, 2019
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No doubt that divorced parents often make strange bedfellows. However, just how bad can things get? A recent Court of Appeals case demonstrates what can happen when things go wrong between former spouses. You may be interested to learn why the judge held this father in criminal contempt. And, yes, that meant time behind bars.
The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville filed its written opinion on Renken v. Renken on February 20, 2019. Truth be told, the father actually filed the first criminal contempt petition. More than likely, he wasn’t pleased when the mother came back and essentially returned the favor. Adding insult to injury, you already know who prevailed in their attempts.
First, a little background on the Renkens. Jennifer Marie Renken and John Glen Renken have four children together. When they divorced on January 9, 2015, their divorce papers included a permanent parenting plan.
The parenting plan named John as the primary residential parent and allotted him 234 days of residential parenting time. In the meantime, Jennifer received 131 days of parenting time with the children.
John filled the petition against Jennifer for criminal contempt on August 24, 2016. Notably, it was at least the second time post-divorce that the former spouses went back to court. Both parties admitted problems communicating with one another.
Criminal Contempt for Violation of Parenting Plan
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s request for court sanctions went further. She also asked the court to revise the custody plan and allow her to move to Minnesota with the children.
If you’re dealing with a difficult former spouse, you may be able to relate to what happened in this case. It essentially boils down to two people who more than likely divorced because they couldn’t agree. And, now, they’re continuing to carry on the disputes as parents.
According to Jennifer, John had his own strict interpretation of the parenting plan. For example, the plan gave Jennifer two nights during the week. John decided this meant that Jennifer could not pick up the children until 5pm, instead of after school at 3:30 pm.
Things escalated when it came to vacation time. When John requested that Jennifer return the children earlier than scheduled so he could start travel in the morning, she refused and brought them home at the time listed in the parenting plan. John retaliated and kept the children two days longer than arranged.
As part of her submittal to the court, Jennifer complained that John did not give her his new phone number when he changed cellphone numbers. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101(a)(3)(B)(i) (2017) states that parents have the “right to unimpeded conversations” with their children. This prevented Jennifer from doing so.
Apparently, Jennifer also had issues with what she viewed as John’s controlling behavior. She claimed their children witnessed him make a derogatory gesture towards her. Jennifer also felt John was watching her.
The Sheriff’s Department investigated stalking allegations against John. Although there were concerns, no criminal charges were filed.
More than likely, you’re getting the picture. Although it’s not thoroughly illustrated in the court’s opinion, you may wonder how much the children knew about their parents’ counterattacks. Like many divorces, there’s a chance that the children suffer because the parents can’t work together.
The Father’s Contentions Against the Mother
As far as he was concerned, John felt it was Jennifer who refused to comply with the parenting plan. He filed police reports regarding the arguments over pick up times and the vacation dispute. Notably, Jennifer worked for the police department.
John continued his tirade against his children’s mother with letters to the chief and members of the city council. Meanwhile, the angered father even showed up at a council meeting to complain. Allegedly, John also requested a copy of Jennifer’s personnel file.
Trial Court Ruling
At some point, the court appointed a guardian ad litem to safeguard the best interests of the children. Against John’s objections, the guardian ad litem suggested a modification of the parenting plan. More specifically, the recommendation stated that both parents have equal parenting time.
Although Jennifer indicated her preference to relocate out of state, she agreed that equal parenting time would allow her to attend more of the children’s extracurricular activities.
Ultimately, the family court denied Jennifer’s request to move and followed the recommendations made by the guardian ad litem calling for equal parenting time.
As far as the two contempt charges? John’s case against Jennifer was dismissed. However, the court did find John in contempt and sentenced him to two days behind bars.
John appealed the case as to its findings. In the end, the Court of Appeals agreed that John should be held in criminal contempt. In the first place, he did not comply with the parenting plan and deliver the children as scheduled. Secondly, he did not supply Jennifer with a phone number to contact the children.
In short, John’s two-day sentence in jail was reaffirmed by the Court of Appeals. He needs to serve the time (if he hasn’t already).
However, the appeals court did send back the part of the judgment dealing with the modification agreement for a best interests hearing.