Parent Education Seminar Not a Precondition to Modification of Parenting Plan in Greeneville, TN Child Custody Litigation: Hawk v. Hawk

Facts: Mother and Father married in 2009 and had one child. They divorced in September 2013. An agreed parenting plan was entered in December 2013 awarding 210 days of parenting time to Mother and 155 days to Father.

Much post-divorce litigation ensued. Of interest here is Mother’s petition to modify the parenting plan to reduce Father’s parenting time and obtain sole decision-making authority.

The trial court modified the parenting plan after finding the parties had proven unable and unwilling to communicate effectively and co-parent in the child’s best interest. The trial court rearranged the parenting schedule but left the number of parenting days the same as before. Notably, the trial court made the following ruling:

In the event that the parties are unable to settle future co-parenting issues among themselves, they shall complete the parenting classes again and they shall complete mediation before filing any additional motions before the court.

Mother appealed.

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

Regarding parenting classes, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-408(a) provides, in relevant part, as follows:

In an action where a permanent parenting plan is or will be entered, each parent shall attend a parent educational seminar as soon as possible after the filing of the complaint.

After reviewing the record, the Court reasoned:

We agree that the statute permits successive attendance in cases where numerous parenting plans are entered. However, the statute does not require attendance before a party may seek relief from the court. Such a requirement unnecessarily hinders a party’s access to justice. Accordingly, the court erred by requiring attendance in an education seminar before seeking further relief from the court.

Thus, the trial court’s requirement that the parties attend a parent education seminar before seeking relief from the court was reversed.

Hawk v. Hawk (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, March 9, 2016).

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

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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