Facts: Shortly after the birth of Child in early 2011, Father lost his job as a university researcher because of a lack of funding. Mother worked as a nurse practitioner. Mother and Father agreed that Father would stay home with Child.
For approximately one year, Father took care of Child during the day and brought Child to Mother’s place of work to breastfeed.
In 2012, Father told Mother he wanted to return to work, so she obtained a nanny to care for Child. Father worked for approximately one week. Despite Father’s unemployment, Child began attending daycare in mid-2012 from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
In April 2014, Father accepted a job and relocated to South Dakota, where his parents and extended family lived.
Ten days after Father relocated, Mother filed for divorce. She requested primary custody of Child.
Father argued that he had been Child’s primary caregiver until he moved to South Dakota. Mother argued that rather than care for Child while he was at home, Father dropped Child off at her workplace, with a nanny, or a daycare.
The trial court found Mother more credible than Father. Specifically, the trial court found Mother’s testimony to be “appropriate” and “truthful,” and described her demeanor while testifying as “exceptional.” To the contrary, the court found Father’s testimony to be “problematic” and “self-serving,” and described his demeanor while testifying as “arrogant” and “controlling.” The trial court gave Mother’s testimony greater weight. Mother was designated as the primary residential parent.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
A final decree in a divorce action involving minor children must include a permanent parenting plan. A permanent parenting plan is a written plan for the parenting and best interests of the child, including the allocation of parenting responsibilities and the establish of a residential schedule. Designating a residential schedule includes, among other things, designating the primary residential parent. Generally, the primary residential parent is the parent with whom the child resides more than 50% of the time. When the court divides residential time equally between the two parents, the court must designate one of them as the primary residential parent.
In determining who should be the primary residential parent and what the residential schedule should be, Tennessee courts must consider the factors set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a).
After reviewing the record, the Court determined the evidence supported the trial court’s judgment:
[T]he primary caregiver, the parent who takes greater responsibility for the provision of necessities, typically forms the stronger emotional bond with the child. . . . Mother and Mother’s witnesses testified that Mother performed a vast majority of the tasks related to the child’s daily needs such as changing diapers, providing food, dressing the child, and in scheduling play dates with other children. . . .
Father testified that he believed Mother’s parents were responsible for the breakup of their marriage. Likewise, Mother testified that Father did not get along with her parents and made derogatory comments about them. To the contrary, Mother testified that she got along with his parents. Even more significant, she allowed the child to Skype with Father three times per week and flew the child to South Dakota for Father’s parenting time.
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Following a thorough review of the record, we have determined that the trial court’s findings are supported by the preponderance of the evidence. The testimony supports the trial court’s finding that Mother acted as the primary caregiver, and hence, formed a stronger emotional bond with the child. Mother has also provided the child with a stable environment conducive to the child’s emotional and intellectual development. Additionally, Mother appears willing to foster a continuing, close relationship between the child and Father. With the foregoing in mind, we have determined that the trial court acted within its discretion in designating Mother as the primary residential parent.
Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.