Issues concerning children and other personal matters are often disputed in divorce cases. In a June 15, 2017 case from the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, a father argued that the lower court erred in not awarding him equal parenting time with the spouses’ three children and in not granting a fault-based divorce due to the mother’s infidelity. The spouses had filed for divorce in 2015, each alleging inappropriate marital conduct on the part of the other. The trial court’s order granted a divorce without finding fault, designated the mother as the primary residential parent, and awarded visitation rights to the father pursuant to a schedule.
On appeal, the father contended that the trial court should have awarded him more time with the children. The father cited Tennessee’s parental custody statute, which provides that, when taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the child’s life, and that is consistent with certain factors, including the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability, and other relevant considerations.
The appeals court noted, however, that the rule does not mandate that each parent spend equal time with the child when such a schedule would not serve the child’s best interest. The court also explained that the trial court’s analysis is guided by a number of other factors, including which parent served as the primary caregiver of the children, which parent is more likely to foster a relationship with the other parent, the stability, and continuity offered by each parent, and the preferences of older children. In the case, the mother worked from home, while the father worked outside the home and was unavailable for much of the week. The court ruled that, under these circumstances, the trial court was well within its discretion to create a parenting plan that provided the mother with the majority of parenting time during the work week and alternating weekends.
The father also argued that the trial court erred by failing to award him a divorce based on inappropriate marital conduct. Under Tennessee law, the court may, upon proof of any ground of divorce, grant a divorce to the party who was less at fault. However, if either or both parties are entitled to a divorce or the divorce is to be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, the court may declare the parties to be divorced, rather than awarding a divorce to either party alone. After reviewing the record, the court found that, although the mother admitted to having an extramarital affair, the father was not without fault for the breakdown of the parties’ marriage. The court went on to rule that, when there is evidence of grounds against both parties, simply declaring that the parties are divorced may be the best option. The decision was therefore affirmed by the higher court.
At the Nashville firm of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our divorce attorneys can guide you through difficult decisions with trustworthy legal advice. We have represented people in litigation regarding divorce and property division, spousal support, child custody and parenting time, and other family law matters. To consult with one of our knowledgeable lawyers, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online and schedule an appointment.