Failure to Return Child to Other Parent Leads to Jail Time in Livingston, Tennessee: Levoy v. Levoy

December 16, 2019 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, their parenting plan designated Mother as the primary residential parent and gave Father regular parenting time.

teen roll eyesAfter Mother discovered their 13-year-old daughter was communicating with an almost 18-year-old boy, she disapproved of the relationship and grounded the daughter. This upset the daughter. After spending the following weekend with Father, the daughter announced she did not want to return to Mother’s home.

Father told Mother that the daughter refused to return to Mother’s home. Despite being told by law enforcement of his obligation to comply with the parenting plan, Father did not return the daughter to Mother’s care.

Less than a week later, Mother petitioned for Father to be found in criminal contempt for violating the parenting plan.

Three weeks later, Father petitioned for and was awarded temporary emergency custody.

The proof showed that Mother missed 12 parenting days. Father admitted violating the parenting plan but claimed he did so out of concern for the daughter’s safety.

The trial court found Father guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of 12 counts of criminal contempt for willfully interfering with Mother’s parenting time and sentenced him to 120 days in jail. He was ordered to serve 10 days in jail, with the remaining 110 days of his sentence suspended pending strict compliance with the parenting plan. The trial court also dissolved the temporary custody order.

Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Civil or criminal contempt requires four elements:

  • the order allegedly violated must be lawful;
  • the order must be clear and unambiguous;
  • the individual charged must have violated the order; and
  • the individual must have acted willfully in violating the order.

In criminal contempt, willfulness has two elements:

  • intentional conduct; and
  • a culpable state of mind.

A person acts intentionally when the person’s conscious objective or desire is to engage in the conduct or cause the result. The culpability inquiry addresses whether the act was undertaken for a bad purpose. An act is undertaken for a bad purpose when the actor has the specific intent to do something the law forbids.

Father argued his actions were motivated by his concern for his daughter’s safety and well-being. As happened with the trial court, the Court of Appeals rejected this argument:

[Father’s] good intentions do not preclude a willfulness finding.

* * * * *

The evidence at trial supports a finding that Father’s violations of the plan were willful. He was aware of the provisions of the parenting plan. And he deliberately denied mother her parenting time . . . knowing that his actions violated the [trial] court’s directives.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that Father is guilty of 12 counts of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.

K.O.’s Comment: Cases where a child expresses his or her opposition to following the court-ordered parenting schedule are known as “coerced visitation” cases. They present several problems for parents and courts. The best course of action for a parent in a coerced visitation case is to seek immediate relief from the court. It is a mistake to modify the court-ordered plan unilaterally, as Father did here, and for which he must now serve 10 long days in jail.

Levoy v. Levoy (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, November 26, 2019).

Failure to Return Child to Other Parent Leads to Jail Time in Livingston, Tennessee: Levoy v. Levoy was last modified: December 15th, 2019 by K.O. Herston

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