Criminal Contempt for Failure to Exchange Child Affirmed in Nashville, Tennessee: In re Khrystchan D.

July 6, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the never-married parents of Child.

Father did not learn of Child and that he was her father until she was 18 months old. After paternity was established, the parents were ordered to attend mediation to work out a parenting schedule.

Meanwhile, Mother notified Father of her intent to relocate to Cleveland, Ohio.

The trial court eventually entered a parenting plan that gave Father parenting time, in relevant part, every Thanksgiving from noon on Wednesday until noon on Sunday. The parties were ordered to exchange Child in Cincinnati. Either parent could send someone else to the exchange, but the parent doing so had to let the other parent know by text or email.

In the weeks leading to Thanksgiving, Father sent text messages to Mother confirming that he would appear at the appointed time and place in Cincinnati to pick up Child for his court-ordered parenting time. Mother responded to say that while neither she nor her mother would bring Child to Cincinnati, he was free to “figure out alternative means.”

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Mother gave birth in Cleveland to her second child.

That same day, Father appeared in Cincinnati at the exchange location and stayed for several hours. Neither Mother nor her designee appeared with Child.

Tennessee criminal contempt

Father petitioned to hold Mother in criminal contempt for not producing Child for Thanksgiving visitation.

The trial court found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mother did not bring the child to be exchange and had the ability to do so. Specifically, Mother should have called Father to inform him of her inability to travel and sent a designee on her behalf. The trial court specifically found that her mother or sister were able to fulfill her obligation.

Mother was found in criminal contempt for not producing Child for Thanksgiving visitation. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, with the sentence suspended contingent upon strict compliance with the parenting plan for the next six months.

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee courts are empowered to inflict punishments of a $50 fine and up to 10 days’ imprisonment for criminal contempt of court.

On appeal, those convicted of criminal contempt lose their presumption of innocence and must overcome their presumption of guilt. Appellate courts will only reverse criminal contempt convictions when the evidence cannot support the trial court’s finding of contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The three elements of criminal contempt are:

  • a court order,
  • the defendant’s violation of that order, and
  • proof that the defendant willfully violated that order.

Willful disobedience in the context of criminal contempt is conduct done voluntarily and intentionally with the specific intent to do something the law forbids.

The Court agreed that Mother’s misconduct was willful:

Viewed in its entirety and in context, the evidence shows that Mother knew [six weeks before Thanksgiving] that she had restrictions on her ability to travel and would need to find a designee or reach an agreement with Father regarding his ability to exercise parenting time until her restrictions were lifted, and that the parties communicated often through the months of October and November. In the absence of agreement with Father or relief from the order, Mother had the responsibility to make arrangements to get [Child] to Cincinnati. Her failure in the time since learning of her travel restrictions to make arrangements to satisfy her obligations under the order relative to the Thanksgiving visitation, the difficulties as to which had been made evident with reference to the October visitation, demonstrates a conscious and deliberate decision to disregard the order.

Finding that “the evidence fully shows that her failure to act was done voluntarily and intentionally and with the specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment holding Mother in criminal contempt.

In re Khrystchan D. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, June 26, 2020).

Criminal Contempt for Failure to Exchange Child Affirmed in Nashville, Tennessee: In re Khrystchan D. was last modified: July 5th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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