Tennessee Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Decision Awarding Father More Parenting Time

In Tennessee “standard visitation” means a non-primary residential parent enjoys parenting time every other weekend during the school year, 2 weeks in the Summer, and Visitationsharing equally all other holidays throughout the year including Christmas holidays, Spring Break, and Fall Break.  Sometimes, “standard visitation” could also include an evening each week or every other week, say 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.  In general, this type of parenting schedule will result in the non-primary residential parent enjoying roughly 80 days per year.

The facts of In Re Grace N. are Rachel N. (Mother) and Julian G. (Father) met online while Father was living and working in France. He returned to Nashville to live near Mother. Then they lived together for a short time, but Father moved out within a month. Although they reconciled, Father did not move back into Mother’s home. Mother subsequently informed Father that she was pregnant with Grace N (Child)

Father filed a petition to establish parentage and Mother filed a counter-petition to set child support and parenting time. The juvenile court entered an order stating that DNA testing had established Father to be the biological father of Grace N. The court noted that the child had been born approximately one month premature, weighing four pounds, four ounces. At her age at the time of the hearing of four and one-half months old, she weighed ten pounds, three ounces. Because of her low birth weight, the child had increased susceptibility to infection. In addition, Mother was breast-feeding. The court awarded Father temporary parenting time each week on Monday and Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and each Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. in the nursery at Mother‟s house. Father was to pay $1,331 per month in child support.

A little over a year later, after modifications to the parenting plan by agreement of the parties, another hearing was held. Father now requested equal parenting time. The trial court found equal parenting time was not feasible and not in the Child’s best interest. The trial court further found the best interest factors set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-106(a) weighed heavily in favor of Mother. The trial court awarded Father 68 days of parenting time and Mother was given sole decision making authority after the trial court found the parties did not communicate effectively.

Father appealed the ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals At Nashville, arguing the trial court’s ruling was contrary to the aforementioned statute requiring a court to establish a parenting schedule allowing both parents the maximum participation possible in the child’s life consistent with the best interest factors.

After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:

The parenting plan adopted by the trial court differs from a “standard” parenting plan in that it does not provide for overnight parenting time during the week; most of the holiday parenting time is for less than 24 hours; there is no provision for a fall break; and the Christmas vacation parenting time is limited to less than 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. With the restrictions on Father’s parenting time, it cannot be said that he is able to enjoy the “maximum participation possible” in his child’s life. While the trial court’s decision may contain reasons for rejecting Father’s proposed week-on/week-off schedule, there is no justification in the record for the minimal amount of parenting time awarded to Father in the parenting plan adopted by the trial court.

We reverse the trial court’s decision on parenting time and remand the matter with instructions to increase Father’s parenting time to at least the minimum 80 days presumed by the [Child Support] Guidelines.

If you are not getting enough visitation time with your children you should seek the services of an experienced family law attorney. Contact Donna Wagner to schedule your consultation.

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