Facts: Child was born to unmarried parents. Mother filed Petition in Juvenile Court to establish paternity. Paternity was established and Father was awarded visitation on alternating weekends. Mother accused Father of sexually abusing Child, which allegations were investigated by the Department of Children’s Services and determined to be unfounded. Despite this, Mother refused to permit Father his court-ordered visitation. Because of Mother’s persistent defiance of the trial court’s orders, custody was awarded to Father and, in an apparent oversight, no visitation was awarded to Mother. Mother appealed the Juvenile Court’s decision to Circuit Court. The case languished in Circuit Court for four years with no activity whatsoever. Finally, the Circuit Court denied Mother’s appeal on jurisdictional grounds, finding the proper venue to be the Court of Appeals.
In some cases, there are reasons why it may be necessary to preclude a parent from having contact with his or her child, for example, where the parent “might harm the child, the . . . parent [has] engaged in substance abuse, or [where] there is evidence that the visits upset the child.” Nothing in the appellate record in this case indicates that the Juvenile Court was presented with evidence of behavior by Mother that would justify the elimination of any parenting time for Mother with the parties’ child. Indeed, in the absence of a compelling reason to do so, an order which precludes contact between parent and child is to be studiously avoided, as the “inescapable effect” of such an order is the “untimely death” of the parent-child relationship.
In this case, the Juvenile Court order from which Mother appeals does not forbid Mother from having any contact with the parties’ child; after awarding Father “permanent and exclusive custody,” it simply does not address parenting time for Mother, as the alternate residential parent. We interpret the Juvenile Court’s use of the term “exclusive” in its grant of custody to Father as meaning that he had sole custody and the exclusive authority to make decisions for the child. The order does not state that Mother is prohibited from having any contact with the child, the child’s school, medical providers, and the like. However, from the record, the parties apparently interpreted the Juvenile Court order as doing just that, precluding Mother from having any contact with the child.
The case was remanded to the Juvenile Court with instructions to implement “appropriate measures to reestablish the relationship of the parties’ child with Mother . . . .”
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.