Restricted Parenting Time Affirmed in Roane County, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: Nelson v. Justice

FactsMother and Father are the never-married parents of Child. Both are Tennessee lawyers.

During the ensuing paternity, custody, and child support case, the trial court restricted Father’s visitation to two hours of supervised visitation upon the recommendation of Child’s psychologist.

Tennessee custody trialThe case was tried over 22 days and produced a 78-volume transcript (!!!). Mother’s proof took a day-and-a-half while Father’s proof and motions took the remaining twenty-and-a-half days.

Both Mother and Father’s ex-wife testified to emotional, sexual, physical, and verbal abuse from Father. Multiple mental-health experts testified on behalf of each parent.

Father was found to have been both physically and psychologically abusive to Mother and psychologically abusive to Child. The trial court found that Father “has exhibited a pattern of manipulation, over-controlling, and bullying in his life” that causes “serious concerns about the moral, mental, and emotional fitness of [Father] to parent the child.”

The trial court entered a parenting schedule consisting of four phases that gradually move from short stints of supervised parenting time to unsupervised parenting time once a week.

Because Father’s parenting time never lasts 12 hours, Father received zero days of parenting time for child-support purposes.

Father was also ordered to pay child support. Mother was awarded $376,000 for her attorney’s fees.

Father appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

When a Tennessee court orders a parenting plan, its goal is to place the child in the environment that best serves the child’s needs. The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care.

Before establishing a parenting schedule, Tennessee courts must determine if either parent has committed the misconduct specified in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-406, which would require the court to limit the parent’s parenting time. Here, the trial court found these factors to apply:

  • the absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between the parent and the child;
  • the abusive use of conflict by the parent that creates the danger of damage to the child’s psychological development; and
  • such other factors or conduct as the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child.

After an exhausting exhaustive recitation of the evidence in this 41-page opinion (c’mon, y’all!!!), the Court found ample proof to sustain the trial court’s findings:

The evidence of the records shows that, for several years, [Child] did not want to spend time alone with Father — even after three years of family therapy. Father physically and mentally abused both Mother and [his ex-wife]. Moreover, he has used the legal system to bully and intimidate people associated with this case. . . . [W]e conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings. As the trial court stated, Father has engaged in “a pattern of manipulation, over-controlling, and bullying.”

The parenting schedule giving Father zero days of parenting time was affirmed along with the $376,000 award for attorney’s fees.

After finding that Mother prevailed on every issue on appeal and “Father’s brief is largely a compilation of conclusory statements with little actual argument or citation to authority,” Mother was also awarded her attorney’s fees on appeal.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) Such a restrictive parenting schedule is a rare outcome limited to the most extreme cases. Somewhat similar results are found in Winkler v. Winkler and F.A.B. v. D.L.B. Try to reconcile those cases with Rudd v. Rudd. Good luck.

(2) Mother was also awarded $45,000 for her discretionary costs. In a separate opinion, the Court affirmed that award, too.

Nelson v. Justice (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, January 25, 2019).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

3 thoughts on “Restricted Parenting Time Affirmed in Roane County, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: Nelson v. Justice

  1. Well, this is interesting. I have never had any problems with my daughter, no abuse or neglect or endangerment on my part, ever, but Judge Sheila Calloway granted my daughter’s dad’s motion to suspend my supervised visitation just because he asked. I hope the Court of Appeals gets things right in my latest appeal. They clearly didn’t mean for my supervised visitation to go on forever. The law is pretty clear, even to me, when it comes to restricting parenting time. You aren’t supposed to do it just to make one parent happy and you aren’t supposed to do it to punish the less-favored parent. My 10 year old has suffered horribly for the past 3 1/2 years. I’m doing my own appeal again, but I did have attorneys representing me in my latest custody modification trial and they got everything into the record, but I have zero parenting time. What does it take to restrict parenting time? A judge who wants to restrict your parenting time. Period. Child’s needs be damned. And the GAL in my daughter’s case is representing my daughter’s dad’s interests to the best of her ability.

  2. Psychological abuse can be subtle and appear non-existant when pertaining to a child. To those not familiar with the child it is difficult to note the behaviors associated with simultaneous grooming and bullying.
    In some relationships there exists a primary caregiver or nurturer. In those cases where children, particularly young children or those with special needs, rely of the routines and quality of care provided….it does not seem in a child’s best interest to be forced into a 50/50 time arrangement that has not ever been the norm.

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