In a recent child custody case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed the judgment of a trial court restricting the father’s parenting time to only 48 hours per month, with no overnight visitation until the child is three years old. In Thompson v. Thompson (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2015), the parents had married and divorced within a year, and during that time, the mother gave birth to their child. The only issue for the court was establishing the parenting plan for the child, who was 13 months old at the time of the trial.
The father appealed the parenting plan, arguing that the severe restrictions on his parenting time were not supported by the evidence and that the trial court did not make any findings that he was guilty of conduct affecting his ability to parent under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36–6–406(d). In Tennessee, the details of parenting plans remain within the broad discretion of the trial judge. However, and despite the fact that the trial court did not identify the legal principles it applied or the factual basis for its decision, the appeals court conducted an independent review of the record in order to avoid a new trial.
In Tennessee, the court attempts to craft parenting plans that will foster the relationship between the child and each parent. However, if the court determines that a parent’s conduct may have an adverse effect on the child’s best interest, the court may limit a parent’s residential time with the child. Factors that may justify imposing limitations include neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting responsibilities, substance abuse that interferes with the performance of parenting responsibilities, the absence of emotional ties between the parent and child, and other factors that the court finds to be adverse to the best interests of the child.
In reviewing the evidence on record, the appeals court noted that the father had only spent one weekend at home with the mother and his child during their marriage, and on other occasions, he had left the mother to care for the sick child while he went out with friends. There was evidence of drug use, although the father denied it. It was also undisputed that the father made inappropriate statements and exhibited inappropriate conduct regarding the child on multiple occasions. Ultimately, the court concluded that based on the evidence, the father engaged in conduct that had an adverse effect on the child, which justified substantially restricting his parenting time. The appeals court accordingly affirmed the parenting plan and parenting schedule set by the trial court.
A knowledgeable family law attorney can protect your interests in a child custody or support dispute, as well as explain your legal options. The Nashville divorce lawyers at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard represent individuals in a variety of family law matters, including divorce, alimony, child custody and support, property distribution, and more. To consult with one of our experienced lawyers regarding your case, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.