Facts: Father and Mother married five months before Child was born.
After Child was born, Mother served as the primary caregiver. Father showed little interest in interacting with and had little involvement with Child.
A few years after Child’s birth, Father relocated to Illinois. Mother remained in Tennessee. A divorce action began shortly thereafter.
While the divorce was pending, the trial court ordered equal parenting time, with each parent receiving two weeks of parenting time every month.
After the trial, and with Father in Illinois and Mother in Tennessee, the trial court designated Mother as the primary residential parent. Mother was awarded 299 days of parenting time, and Father was awarded 66 days.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Father argued that only 66 days of parenting time failed to maximize his participation in Child’s life. He had proposed a schedule giving him 137 days.
Mother responded that Father’s proposed schedule would allow her little downtime with Child and would also give Child little time for extracurricular activities in Tennessee.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a) provides that, taking into account the child’s best interest, the trial court should adopt a parenting plan that permits each parent to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the child’s life that is consistent with the factors set forth in the statute. The relationship between the child in each parent should be fostered because of the fundamental importance of the parent-child relationship to the welfare of the child. The location of the parents’ residences, the child’s need for stability, and all other relevant factors must be considered.
The Court determined that only giving Father 66 days of parenting time was an abuse of discretion:
We find that the evidence preponderates against the parenting plan that limits Father’s parenting time to only 66 days a year. The prior period of equal parenting time allowed [Child] to develop a closer relationship with  Father and Paternal Grandmother. During that period,  Child also engaged in extracurricular activities in Illinois, such as sports, Girl Scouts, and dance, which Father and Paternal Grandmother described as an important part of  Child’s life. We conclude that the evidence preponderates in favor of the parenting plan that does not so greatly minimize the parenting time of Father.
Thus, the trial court’s parenting plan was reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to adopt a plan that increases Father’s parenting time.
Long-distance cases are tricky because the child is burdened with considerable travel time, which typically requires limits on parenting time. In one long-distance case, for example, parenting time of 93 days was affirmed on appeal. See In re Gabriel V.
While 66 days was not enough parenting time on these facts, it is possible for a parent to receive far less time than even that. See, e.g., In re Emily M., where only 24 days of parenting time was affirmed because the parent had concealed significant mental-health issues.
As with almost all family-law issues, it comes down to the specific facts of each case. Still, the cases cited above offer some guidance to Tennessee family-law attorneys and trial-court judges.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.