Facts: Mother and Father are the never-married parents of Child.
Father is a pilot for FedEx. His job requires him to travel approximately 15 days per month, and his schedule varies from month to month.
Mother is a nurse anesthetist. She works two 24-hour shifts per week, and her schedule also varies from month to month.
Originally, Mother was designated the primary residential parent and Father received 8 to 11 days of parenting time each month following a process where he would request days when he got his work schedule and he and Mother would come to some sort of agreement.
Years later, Father petitioned to modify the parenting plan to designate him as Child’s primary residential parent. He alleged that Mother had a history of mental instability that manifested itself during angry and violent outbursts in front of Child.
After hearing, the trial court ordered that a more structured parenting schedule would be best despite the logistical difficulties presented by Father’s variable work schedule. The trial court kept Mother as the primary residential parent and awarded Father parenting time during the second, fourth, and fifth weekends of each month, along with holiday and summer vacation time.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Father argued the parenting schedule failed to permit both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of Child.
The Court explained that “maximum participation possible” doesn’t mean what Father thinks it means:
Father’s argument suggests that permitting both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the child’s life should be the court’s primary consideration in ordering a custody arrangement. That is not the case. The plain language of [Tennessee Code Annotated] § 36-6-106(a) directs courts to order custody arrangements that allow each parent to enjoy the maximum possible participation in the child’s life only to the extent that doing so is consistent with the child’s best interests. Indeed, the General Assembly has expressly declared that in any proceeding involving custody or visitation of a minor child, the overarching standard by which the court determines and allocates the parties’ parental responsibilities is the best interests of the child.
Although not expressly stated in its order, the juvenile court clearly determined that a parenting schedule requiring frequent communication and collaboration by Mother and Father would not serve [Child’s] best interests. Having reviewed the evidence of the vitriolic relationship between Mother and Father, we agree. Flexible parenting arrangements that require frequent collaboration can undermine the psychological well-being of the parents and expose the child to high levels of parental conflict when the parents cannot resolve disputes amicably. Such a custody arrangement requires a harmonious and cooperative relationship between both parents to be successful. The record before us clearly demonstrates that Mother and Father have not had that sort of cooperative relationship in the past. . . . The only conclusion to be drawn from the record before us is that these parties need a parenting schedule that requires as little communication and collaboration as possible. We therefore readily reject Father’s suggestions that we alter the juvenile court’s parenting schedule by allowing Father to reschedule parenting time that conflicts with his [work] schedule, by providing a right of first refusal to care for the child when the other parent is unavailable, or by adopting an alternating weekly parenting schedule. Each of those suggested alterations would require increased communication between the parties that would diminish the parenting schedule’s chances of long-term success.
The parenting schedule established by the trial court was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: Father had another child with a different mother. He was trying to get custody of that child, too. The two cases were tried together and received the same analysis and ultimate outcome. The other opinion is In re Piper H.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.