Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, they entered an agreed parenting plan designating Mother as the primary residential parent of Child and awarding Father 100 days of parenting time.
Five years later, Father petitioned to modify the parenting plan and change custody. Father alleged a long list of material changes of circumstance, including his claim that Child missed an unreasonable amount of school with unexcused absences, that Mother exhibited irrational and unreasonable behavior (such as referring to Father’s second wife as a “slut” at a Cub Scout meeting where Child was present; Father also claimed when Child asked why both parents were not going on a Cub Scout camping trip, Mother responded, “Because your dad is a bastard”), that Mother did not meet Child’s basic needs such that Child was frequently dirty and foul-smelling, and that Mother made derogatory remarks about Father to Child, such as telling Child he could not be around Father’s coworkers because they were “sluts, homewreckers and a bad influence,” and telling Child that Father “f—ed another girl in high school.”
Mother denied Father’s allegations. The matter proceeded to a hearing where Mother and Father were the only witnesses.
The trial court questioned Mother’s credibility and concluded there had been a material change of circumstance. The trial court noted Mother’s “behavior has really been inappropriate in a lot of ways.” Despite this, the trial court found it was not in Child’s best interest to change custody, stating that Child is “thriving” in Mother’s custody and, as a result, the court was “really reluctant to disturb that.”
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
A trial court’s determinations as to whether a material change in circumstances has occurred and whether modification of a parenting plan serves a child’s best interests are factual questions. Because decisions regarding parenting arrangements are factually driven and require careful consideration of numerous factors, trial judges, who have the opportunity to observe the witnesses and make credibility determinations, are considered better positioned to evaluate the facts than appellate judges. Thus, a trial court’s decision regarding the details of a residential parenting schedule will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. A trial court abuses its discretion when its decision falls outside the spectrum of rulings that might reasonably result from an application of the correct legal standards to the evidence found in the record.
After painstakingly examining the record and the trial court’s findings as to each of the best interest factors in Tennessee Code § 36-6-106(a), the Court concluded:
We, like the trial court, are troubled by Mother’s conduct, but we cannot say that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that it was in the best interest of the child for Mother to remain the primary residential parent.
Accordingly, the trial court was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.