Parental Alienation Leads to Change of Custody in Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Honea v. Honea

May 17, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father, the parents of three children, divorced after eight years of marriage. After a trial, Mother was designated the primary residential parent, and Father received 148 days of parenting time each year.

At the time of divorce, the trial court found Mother’s willingness and ability to encourage a relationship between the children and Father was “somewhat lacking” and reflected the “early cultivation of parental alienation.”

One year later, both parents petitioned to modify the parenting plan.

The trial court observed that the parties’ relationship had been “consistent and hostile” since their divorce, but Mother’s actions “have significantly escalated.” The trial court found:

Mother has encouraged the children to make incriminating statements about Father and his family to teachers, the counselor, and others in her unrelenting effort to alienate the children from Father.

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Many of the allegations against Father, suspiciously, immediately precede Thanksgiving, an anticipated cruise, and the beginning of his extended summer parenting time. Also, despite the numerous allegations of sexual abuse and the 15-18 referrals to DCS, not one claim against Father or a single member of his family has been substantiated, yet Mother continues maintaining these claims and encourages the children to speak to people about them. . . . These efforts on her part have negatively impacted the children. . . . [The trial court] had hoped Mother’s efforts at alienation would subside; however, it is overwhelmingly clear from the evidence her efforts in this regard have significantly intensified, to the detriment of the children’s relationship with their father and to their emotional detriment as well.

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Mother has been on a quest, apparently prior to the divorce and subsequent to the divorce, to eliminate Father from the lives of his children. She has been successful in having third parties, either wittingly or unwittingly, assist her in this regard. . . . When a particular allegation fails to [eliminate Father’s parenting time,] a different allegation, unsupported by the evidence, is brought forth. When that one fails, there is another and another. It appears Mother will not rest until the children cannot ever see Father.

The children emotionally need both parents. Mother has attempted to, and with some success, interfered with the emotional needs of the children and having a close relationship with their father. There is no evidence Father has reciprocated. In fact, he opposed the suggestion by his attorney that Mother’s parenting time be less than his.

The trial court granted Father’s petition to modify the parenting plan, ordered that the parties share equal time, changed the primary residential parent from Mother to Father and awarded sole decision-making authority over educational decisions to Father.

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

Tennessee courts have broad discretion in crafting parenting plans because of their ability to observe the witnesses and assess their credibility. Thus, the Court of Appeals employs a limited review of a trial court’s factual findings in cases involving the primary residential parent designation and residential parenting schedules.

The Court found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion:

The trial court concluded that . . . the material change in circumstances consisted of Mother’s significant escalation of the parental alienation that had begun by the time of the parties’ divorce trial. . . . We conclude that Mother has failed to show that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s conclusion that Father proved a material change of circumstances . . . .

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Mother has failed to show that the trial court abused its discretion in modifying the parties’ permanent parenting plan. The facts the trial court found are supported by the evidentiary record, and we conclude that the court’s modification of the parenting plan is among several acceptable alternatives the court could have adopted.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) Because it is so fact-specific, this case is unimportant in terms of its legal analysis. I shared it here because it serves as a cautionary tale for parents who do not promote and encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent. From the trial court’s comments, I sense that Mother’s parenting time may have been sharply reduced had Father requested it.

(2) The opinion quotes the following description of parental alienation from an expert in another case:

The most straightforward way to understand the harm from parental alienation is against the backdrop of the normal developmental support that parents provide in a healthy family. In a healthy parent/child relationship, parents provide by example and by instruction assistance in children’s emotional development and their development of the capacity to relate to others in the development of a moral sensibility, in the development of capacity for empathy, to appreciate another person’s state of mind and emotional experience.

Parental alienation at one level or another undermines each of those developmental pathways so that when a child is alienated and that alienation is supported by the other parent, the parent who is supporting the alienation, whether this is their intent or not, is effectively supporting the child in cruel, un-empathic behavior towards another human being, they are supporting the child in attitudes and behaviors toward interpersonal conflict that emphasize rejection, separation, and polarization, rather than resolution.

Often, in dealing with the professed basis for the alienation, the child is being supported in oversimplified, polarized, black-and-white thinking, which undermines critical-thinking skills and so forth so that ultimately parental alienation is a risk to normal personality development because of those kinds of effects. To the extent that we have research on long-term outcomes of people who report having experienced parental alienation, there is certainly a basis for concern that these kinds of adverse effects can persist long-term and can have adverse effects and on adult capacity for emotional self-regulation.

Honea v. Honea (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, April 22, 2021).

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Parental Alienation Leads to Change of Custody in Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Honea v. Honea was last modified: May 14th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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