Tennessee Appellate Court Rules That Lower Court Failed To Perform Child Best Interest Analysis

In order to modify a permanent parenting plan and change the primary residential parent, Tennessee courts must first determine that a material change of circumstances has occurred. If the Child Custodycourt indeed finds such a change then it applies a best interest of the child analysis as laid out in Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-101.

Charles W. Hendricks v. Lori A. Smith is a case ruled upon by the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville where a best interest of the child analysis was at issue. The facts of the case are as follows. Charles W. Hendricks (Father) and Lori A. Smith (Mother) entered into an agreed permanent parenting plan concerning their two minor children (the Children). Less than two weeks after entry of the plan, the Father filed a motion for custody of the Children in the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County alleging that the parenting plan was fraudulent because the Mother had not disclosed that she worked as a licensed prostitute in Nevada. The Magistrate found a material change in circumstances and that it was in the best interest of the Children for the Father to have custody. The Mother appealed to the Juvenile Court Judge. After a trial, the Juvenile Court Judge found a material change in circumstances based on the Mother’s having worked as a prostitute and her having concealed that fact, as well as Mother’s hostility to Father and the Children’s stepmother. The Juvenile Court  Judge entered a permanent parenting plan designating the Father as primary residential parent of the Children. The Mother appealed to the Court of Appeals at Knoxville arguing that the Juvenile Court Judge erred in awarding custody of the Children to the Father.

The Appellate Court did find that there was a material change in the circumstances of the children because of the Mother’s deception, her occupation as a prostitute, and her hostility toward Father and his wife. However, the Court found no best interest analysis findings by the Juvenile Court. The Court went on to state the following:

 “Without such best interest findings and conclusions, this court is left to wonder on what basis the court reached its ultimate decision. In this case, the trial court failed to make any findings regarding the best interest of the child. Best interests, however, is the paramount consideration, the pole star, the alpha and omega, of any child custody determination. Without findings indicating that the trial court made a best interest analysis in refusing to allow the child to relocate with Father and subsequently awarding custody, and the majority of parenting time to Mother, the trial court did not apply the correct legal standards to the evidence found in the record.”

As such, the Appellate Court vacated the Juvenile Court’s judgment and remanded this case for the Juvenile Court to enter a permanent parenting plan after considering all relevant factors, including making a best interest analysis of the children.

If you believe that your children have experienced a material change of circumstances that has impacted their ‘best interest’ you should have the confidence of knowing you have an experienced family law attorney on your side. Contact Donna Wagner to schedule a consultation.

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