Facts: Mother and Father are the parents of two children. They divorced after 13 years of marriage.
Mother requested that she be allowed to move with the children to California, where she grew up and has family support.
The five-day trial yielded testimony from Mother about Father’s abuse, which testimony the trial court credited in its finding that Mother was the victim of domestic violence. The court also found that Mother was the primary caregiver of the children.
Mother was designated the primary residential parent and given permission to move to California, a move the trial court found to be in the best interest of the children.
The trial court adopted Mother’s proposed parenting plan, which allocated Father’s parenting time as one weekend per month during seven months when school is in session, four weeks of the children’s summer vacation, and portions of the school holidays.
In response to Father’s post-trial motion, the trial court expanded Father’s parenting time to include the entire summer vacation instead of half and every spring break instead of every other spring break.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Tennessee’s parental relocation statute does not apply to this case because the court is making the initial custody determination. Instead, the best-interest analysis applies, and the court must consider the proposed relocation when making its best-interest determination.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-406(a)(2) requires that parenting time “shall be limited” if the trial court finds that the parent engaged in domestic violence. The statutory language is mandatory.
The Court faulted the trial court for awarding monthly parenting time to Father:
[T]he trial court’s findings regarding Father’s abuse are detailed, extensive, and unambiguous. Based on our review of the over 1400 pages of testimony in the transcript, we find the evidence does not preponderate against those findings. Under the circumstances of this case, we believe Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-406(a)(2) mandates that Father’s parenting time be limited. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment so as to delete Father’s coparenting time of one weekend per month in September, October, November, January, February, April, and May. Given Father’s financial situation and the distance involved, we doubt that this change will, as a practical matter, have any real effect. With this modification, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its judgment regarding the coparenting time allotted to each party.
The trial court’s judgment was modified to reduce Father’s parenting time.
K.O.’s Comment: The standard of review—abuse of discretion—supposedly prevents appellate courts from reversing a trial court’s decision merely because reasonable minds can reach a different conclusion.
Here, the Court reduced Father’s parenting time by 14 days (two days in each of seven months). Is that consistent with the standard of review? Is it really an abuse of discretion to allow Father to exercise those 14 days?
The statute merely says parenting time must be limited. It doesn’t say how much. By virtue of the children’s relocation to California, Father’s parenting time was already severely limited.
Because of this change, the children will go months without seeing their father before they spend the entire summer with him. I guess preventing that somehow constitutes an abuse of discretion. Good luck figuring that out.