Material Change to Increase Parenting Time Scrutinized in Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Drucker v. Daley

December 9, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

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

When Child was 14 months old, they entered an agreed parenting plan naming Mother as the primary residential parent and awarding Father 89 days of parenting time. When the agreed parenting plan was entered, Mother and Child lived a three-hour drive from Father.

In the intervening years, Mother and Child moved back to the area where Father lived, eventually living less than a mile from his home.

Nine years later, Father petitioned to change the parenting plan to name him as the primary residential parent and for equal parenting time. Both parents sought sole decision-making authority over Child’s educational decisions.

The trial court found a material change sufficient to adjust parenting time, commenting that “[t]here’s a lot of difference in the needs and relationships of a 14-month-old than there is in a nine or 10-year-old.”

The trial court also noted that the parents’ homes’ proximity makes them more able to share equal parenting responsibilities than was possible nine years earlier. The trial court ruled, “This case is well suited for a designation of equal parenting time.” Mother kept the primary residential parent designation, but the trial court adopted Father’s proposed parenting schedule.

Mother appealed.

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

Deciding whether to change a parenting plan requires a two-step analysis. The first step is to determine whether a material change in circumstances has occurred since the previous parenting plan’s entry that affects the child’s well-being in a meaningful way.

If a material change is found, a Tennessee court must decide whether changing the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest.

When a parent seeks only to modify the parenting schedule, the threshold for determining whether there has been a material change is much lower than when a parent seeks to change the primary residential parent designation.

The operative statute—Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-101(a)(2)(C)—gives examples of what may satisfy this low threshold for a material change. The list includes changes relating to age, changes in the parent’s living or working condition that significantly affect parenting, and a parent’s failure to follow the parenting plan.

The Court agreed that Father proved a material change:

[F]or purposes of modifying a residential parenting schedule, a petitioner can establish that a material change of circumstances affects the child’s well-being in a meaningful way through evidence of changes to the petitioner’s circumstances that will allow more parenting time and/or a better parent-child relationship in the future.

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Does the evidence in this case preponderate against the trial court’s determination that Father established a material change in circumstances for purposes of modifying the residential parenting schedule? We have concluded that the trial court did not err. . . . [Child] is a happy and well-adjusted child. But, the proof shows that circumstances have changed since the entry of the original residential parenting schedule and those changes affect the parenting relationship. The material changes of circumstances established by Father’s proof fall within the statutory categories of “significant changes in the needs of the child over time, which may include changes relating to age; significant changes in the parents living or working condition that significantly affect parenting.” Because of the change in [Child’s] age, the court recognized the differences in her “needs and relationships” as compared to when the original parenting plan was devised. Moreover, because of changes in Mother’s and Father’s residences, maturity levels, and family composition, the trial court found improvement in the parents’ abilities to share parenting responsibilities.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Drucker v. Daley (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, November 25, 2020).

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Material Change to Increase Parenting Time Scrutinized in Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Drucker v. Daley was last modified: December 3rd, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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