Facts: Mother and Father are the unmarried parents of Child.
The trial court determined Father’s parentage and established a temporary parenting schedule based on the child’s medical needs, young age, and Mother’s breastfeeding schedule.
Months later, the parties modified the temporary parenting schedule by agreement.
A little over a year later, the final hearing was held. Father requested equal parenting time. The trial court found equal parenting time was “not feasible” and not in 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.
Father was awarded 68 days of parenting time. Mother was given sole decision-making authority after the trial court found the parties did not communicate effectively.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Father argued the trial court’s ruling was contrary to the provision in Tennessee Code § 36-6-106(a) 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.
Tennessee courts have broad discretion to fashion parenting plans that best serve the interests of the children. The Child Support Guidelines presume that children will typically reside with the noncustodial parent a minimum of 80 days per year. Various cases in Tennessee have referred to this as “standard parenting time.”
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.
Accordingly, the trial court’s parenting schedule was reversed and the matter remanded for reconsideration.
K.O.’s Comment: Add this to the growing list of cases where the “maximum participation possible” provision was cited as the basis for reversing a parenting schedule. In the cases where the Court of Appeals has upheld such schedules in the face of a “maximum participation” argument, the trial courts made detailed findings as to why such a schedule was necessary under the circumstances. In order for such parenting schedules to have a chance of being upheld, trial courts need to make sure detailed findings are made. Similarly, lawyers must make sure to provide the trial court with evidence from which such findings can be justified. While it’s certainly not impossible for such a schedule to withstand a “maximum participation” argument, it has gotten harder.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.