Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, their agreed parenting plan designated Mother as the primary residential parent of their two children and set out Father’s parenting time.
Two years later, Father notified Mother that he was moving to New Jersey. Because of Father’s move to New Jersey, Mother petitioned to modify the parenting plan.
Father counter-petitioned to modify the parenting plan. He alleged that Mother had been charged with two felonies: possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and forgery. He alleged that Mother’s drug use resulted in the children being malnourished, truant from school, and unsafe in Mother’s care.
When the trial began, the trial court orally dismissed Mother’s petition because she had not filed a proposed parenting plan as required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-405.
Mother admitted developing a prescription drug addiction. She voluntarily completed an intensive outpatient rehabilitation program and complied with her treatment, including passing all drug screens. She testified she maintained her sobriety for over 18 months by the time of trial.
The trial court noted that, given Father’s move to New Jersey and Mother’s criminal charges, there was a material change in circumstances. The trial court concluded it was in the children’s best interest that Father be named the primary residential parent. Mother was awarded 110 days of parenting time.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Determining a child’s best interest is a fact-sensitive inquiry that does not call for a rote examination of each of the statutory factors and then a determination of whether the sum of the factors tips for or against the parent. The relevancy and weight to be given each factor depends on the unique facts of each case. Determining what is in the child’s best interest could turn on a single factor.
After examining the record, the Court found the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion:
Here, the bulk of factors favored neither party. Of the factors that weigh in favor of a particular party, however, the majority favor Father. In particular, the evidence concerning Father’s stability, his support network in New Jersey, and Mother’s decision to place her drug addiction before the mental and physical well-being of the children for even a period of few years, strongly support naming Father primary residential parent. Indeed, only a single factor strongly favors Mother, the fact that she has been the children’s primary caregiver since the divorce. . . . [T]his factor is not sufficient to militate in favor of keeping Mother as primary residential parent.
The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: I hope you read this far because I blogged about this opinion solely to solicit your thoughts on the questions raised in these two comments.
(1) Father alleged that, because of Mother’s drug use, the children were malnourished, truant from school, and unsafe in her care. Doesn’t this allege dependence and neglect? Per the ruling in Cox v. Lucas, did the divorce court have subject-matter jurisdiction, or did exclusive jurisdiction lie with the juvenile court? If the latter, then isn’t the trial court’s ruling void?
(2) Note that Mother’s petition was dismissed by the trial court for failure to file a proposed parenting plan per Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-405. Considering the holding in Freeman v. Freeman, was this appropriate?