Facts: Mother and Father are the parents of one child. They divorced after six years of marriage.
In their proposed parenting plans, both Mother and Father opposed joint decision-making regarding the child’s education and nonemergency healthcare.
Mother testified that Father frequently did not send the child to preschool and that he did not review the child’s school documents. She further testified that they have a history of controversy and argument over the child’s medical history, diagnosis, and prognosis. She stated that Father refuses to acknowledge that the child has asthma and a food allergy to cashews even though the child had been diagnosed with both. Mother also testified as to an occasion when Father took the child to a walk-in clinic, without informing Mother of the visit or that the child was prescribed medication.
For his part, Father testified that the parties have had “a ton of parental issues” since Mother made allegations that Father sexually abused the child, which allegations were later determined to be unfounded. He further testified that Mother does not provide him with information regarding the child including medical and school records. Father acknowledged the child’s asthma diagnosis but testified that he does not believe the child has asthma because he has never witnessed the child with asthma-related symptoms.
The trial court ordered the parents to make decisions jointly, stating:
I think both parents should be involved in discussing with each other educational decisions, nonemergency healthcare, religious upbringing and extracurricular activities. I have faith in both of you that you can do that from this point forward. Bottom line is you will have to or some other judge will arrange this if you can’t do it yourselves.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Where the parents are unable to agree on matters of great importance to the welfare of their minor children, the primary decision-making authority must be placed in one parent or the other.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-407(b) states that the “court shall order sole decision-making to one (1) parent when it finds that: . . . Both parents are opposed to mutual decision making; or . . . One (1) parent is opposed to mutual decision making, and such opposition is reasonable in light of the parties’ inability to satisfy the criteria for mutual decision-making authority.”
After finding “ample evidence” of the parties’ difficulty communicating and reaching consensus regarding education and nonemergency healthcare decisions, the Court ruled:
[W]e conclude that joint decision-making on matters involving the child’s nonemergency healthcare and education is not in the child’s best interest. Further, Mother is the most suitable person to exercise this important function. Although Mother argues on appeal that she should also be awarded sole-decision making authority for the child’s religious upbringing and extracurricular activities because Father opposed joint-decision making, Mother did not make this argument in the trial court. To the contrary, Mother testified that it was in the child’s best interest that these decisions be made jointly.
For the foregoing reasons, we remand with instructions for the trial court to modify the permanent parenting plan to change the decision making authority from “joint” to “Mother” for the decisions pertaining to the child’s education and nonemergency healthcare.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.