Parenting Schedule Reversed for Failing to Maximize Participation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee: In re Lennon R.

Tennessee parenting scheduleFactsMother and Father are the unmarried parents of Child. After paternity was established, Father petitioned for parenting time.

A temporary parenting plan awarded almost equal parenting time, with Mother receiving slightly more time.

After a three-day trial, Father was designated the primary residential parent, and Mother was awarded 100 days of parenting time comprising alternating weekends and some holidays.

Mother appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Mother argued the trial court failed to maximize her parenting time.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a) requires Tennessee courts to “order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child.”

The Court found the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Mother only 100 days of parenting time:

[T]he trial court’s sole ground for awarding Mother only every other weekend with [] Child is the fact that the parties live in different counties. Yet, . . . the record shows that Mother has historically been [] Child’s primary caretaker. Mother has provided a loving and stable home for [] Child. Further, [] Child is bonded with Mother and her half-sister, who resides with Mother. While Mother’s job as a waitress requires a nontraditional work schedule, the record does not show that Mother’s work schedule has interfered with her ability to care for [] Child. The fact that [] Child sometimes stays with a babysitter so that Mother can work should not be held against Mother, as Mother has to work. . . .

Further, despite living in different counties, the testimony demonstrates that neither party is burdened by the exchange location or the drive. Father testified that the exchange location is about 10 to 12 miles from his house and take him about 15 to 30 minutes to drive there, depending on traffic. Mother testified that it takes her about 20 to 30 minutes to drive to the exchange location from her house. . . . Here, neither party complained about the travel time or the exchange location; thus, there is no evidence nor basis to justify limiting Mother’s parenting time to every other weekend as ordered by the trial court.

* * * * *

[W]e conclude that the trial court abused its discretion because it reached an illogical conclusion when it awarded Mother only every other weekend with [] Child. . . . [T]he evidence does not support such a custody arrangement. It is clear that such an arrangement would not be in [] Child’s best interest. Due to [] Child’s bond with both parents, significantly truncating her time with either would likely cause [] Child distress.

The trial court’s parenting schedule was reversed, and the case remanded with instructions for the trial court “to fashion a more equal parenting schedule between the parties.”

K.O.’s Comment: This case reminds me of In re Blaklyn M., another case where an alternating weekend schedule was reversed for running afoul of the maximum-participation provision.

In re Lennon R. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, May 23, 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.

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