Posted by: koherston | February 17, 2014

Trial Court’s Local Rule Invalidated in Blountville Divorce: Smalling v. Smalling

Knoxville divorce lawyerFacts: Husband and Wife sought to conclude an agreed divorce after agreeing to a Marital Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan. With the parties ostensibly seeing eye to eye on the divorce, the divorce appeared to be moving smoothly forward.

However, a stumbling block emerged. Husband submitted a proposed Temporary Parenting Plan in an attempt to comply with local rules requiring the filing of such a plan in divorces involving minor children. The Temporary Parenting Plan proposed by Husband incorporated the Permanent Parenting Plan agreed on by the parties. The Trial Court did not deem this acceptable. In an order handwritten on the proposed Temporary Parenting Plan, the trial court stated: “Refused [sic] do not set for hearing until TPP filed.” The divorce action thus ground to a halt.

Husband applied for an extraordinary appeal, which request was granted by the Court of Appeals.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Trial courts are empowered to establish local rules governing the practice of law before that court. Tennessee Code Annotated § 16-2-511 provides:

Uniform rules of practice may be promulgated in each district by the judges of the district. The rules shall be consistent with the statutory law, the rules of the supreme court and the rules of criminal and civil procedure. The judges within a district may, by rule, designate courts or parts of a court that will be primarily responsible for hearing certain types of cases or cases dealing with certain areas of the law. Not less than thirty (30) days prior to the rules taking effect, copies of the rules shall be published and circulated to the practicing bar and filed with the administrative director of the courts.

In this case, the trial court had a local rule that required the filing of a Temporary Parenting Plan in every divorce involving minor children. No exception to this requirement existed in the local rules.

Husband argued that this local rule conflicted with the relevant statutory law.

The applicable Tennessee statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-403, provides in part:

The court shall approve a temporary parenting plan as follows:
(1) If the parties can agree to a temporary parenting plan, no written temporary parenting plan is required to be entered; or. . . .

After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:

[Local] Rule 16, with its apparent blanket requirement for the filing of a Temporary Parenting Plan, contradicts Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-403 when the parties agree on a Temporary Parenting Plan. Rule 18(c) of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court states that “any local rule that is inconsistent with a statute or a procedural rule promulgated by the Supreme Court shall be invalid.” Additionally, there is significant case law in Tennessee for the proposition that local rules may not conflict with statutory law….

Under circumstances such as those of this case, where the parties are in agreement, no Temporary Parenting Plan need be filed pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-403. [Local] Rule 16 must yield to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-403 and is invalid to the extent it conflicts with the statute. The Trial Court erred in not adhering to the statute.

The Court also concluded that the Temporary Parenting Plan submitted by Husband did not contain any defects sufficient to warrant the trial court’s refusal to accept it. Thus, the Court also concluded that Husband did comply with the local rules by submitting an appropriate Temporary Parenting Plan.

The trial court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court with instructions “to proceed to conclusion.”

Smalling v. Smalling (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, January 24, 2014).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.


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