Equal Parenting Time Reversed in Decatur, Tennessee Divorce: Owens v. Owens

December 8, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Father and Mother divorced after 25 years of marriage. Both are veterinarians, although Mother only worked part-time once the two children, now 20 and 17, were born.

The proof showed that Mother had always been the children’s primary caregiver. With the children, Father “didn’t do a whole lot.” Father criticized Mother for the house not being clean enough because she had “run with the kids all day.” Mother testified that Father frequently yelled at her, calling her lazy, stupid, and telling her she was “nothing.” When Mother was pregnant with both children, Father often made accusations that the child was not his. He later accused Mother of having affairs in front of the children.

Father was frequently critical and belittling toward Son. For example, when Father received an interrogatory indicating that Son told Mother about Father exposing Son to a paramour, Father told Son, “F*** you, I’m done with you, and I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”

17-year-old Son described his weekend visits with Father as “pretty rough.” He expressed a strong preference that Mother be the primary residential parent. Son didn’t want to spend any time with Father but said the most he would like to do is alternating weekends. When asked what Father could do to change or improve their relationship, Son noted there had been 16 years for Father to change and that it was “coincidental” that he was claiming an interest in him now.

20-year-old Daughter testified that Father has “never been nice to” Son and that the mean comments from Father were “really hurtful for [son]. … Hearing those things from your father is not a good thing ever.” She testified Father rarely told the children he loved them and never hugged them. She said he never expressed that he was proud of them; he just told them what they could’ve done better.

Father presented testimony from a clinical psychologist who recommended that Father “have uninterrupted time” with Son and that Son’s contact with Mother be limited during Father’s parenting time.

The trial court ruled that “child custody is going to be 50/50.”

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee law requires that custody determinations be made based on the child’s best interest. The child’s needs are paramount, while the desires of the parents are secondary.

Tennessee courts must conduct a best-interest analysis based on the factors found at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a).

Regarding equal parenting time, Tennessee law provides that neither a preference nor a presumption for or against shared custody exists.

Tennessee courts have observed that, to serve the child’s best interest, a joint custody arrangement requires a harmonious and cooperative relationship between both parents. Thus, equal parenting time should be ordered only when there is specific, direct proof that the child’s interest will be served by equally dividing custody between the parents.

The Court found an abuse of discretion for equal parenting time to be ordered on these facts:

Father argued for pages on end that continuing animosity and a marked lack of trust exists between the parties. Facts relating to the parties being inflexible and uncooperative in parenting the child are highly relevant to the determination of whether an equal parenting arrangement is in the child’s best interest.

[T]he evidence is undisputed that [Son’s] relationship with [Mother] is far stronger than his relationship with [Father]. [Son’s] relationship with [Father] is fraught with discord and disapproval over [Father’s] personal drinking habits, inappropriate comments, insults, and infidelity. [Son] has been bullied and publicly embarrassed by [Father]. Wife clearly had the majority of parenting responsibilities relating to [Son’s] daily needs throughout his life.

*     *     *     *     *

There is no evidence that [Son] has an emotional need for a split-parenting schedule; rather, he expressed emotional distress when he is required to spend a great deal of time with [Father].

[Son] is nearly 18 years old. He believes that [Father] is not a good person. That opinion did not develop overnight but was based upon observations over his lifetime. … The reasons for [Son’s] preference to be with [Mother] are objectively reasonable. They should be accorded significant weight.

The majority of the factors in this case are not equal, but favor [Mother]. Indeed, not a single factor favors [Father] alone in this case. On the whole, the parties’ continuing lack of trust and inability to cooperate are barriers to the joint parenting arrangement ordered by the trial court. … The trial court’s decision regarding parenting time falls outside the spectrum of rulings that might reasonably result from an application of the correct legal standards to the evidence in the record.

The trial court’s judgment was reversed and the case remanded for the entry of a parenting plan naming Mother as the primary residential parent and giving Father “reasonable, though not equal, visitation.”

K.O.’s Comment: TCA § 20-6-102 requires that certain nonpublic information be excluded from all documents filed with a Tennessee court. For example, children must be referred to by only their initials, and their date of birth must be nothing more than the year of birth. This is done to protect people’s privacy.

I wish the Court of Appeals would learn to exercise similar discretion with people’s private information when drafting appellate opinions.

This opinion is replete with gratuitous and unnecessary private information. It contains the full names of the women with whom the father was unfaithful, along with details about specific sex acts these women performed.

These facts are unimportant in a case involving property division and parenting time. Even if they are somehow relevant, the reader need not know their full legal names and specific sex acts. The reader needs only to know that the father committed infidelity with multiple partners. The partners can be identified as Paramour #1, Paramour #2, etc.

One could reasonably conclude that including so much personal information about nonparties is an attempt to shame them publicly. I doubt that’s the intent, but it’s hard to understand any other reason.

Regarding the parties’ minor son, the opinion includes much identifying information of no significance. The reader learns what school he attends, what church he attends, his grade point average, even the position he plays on the school baseball team. If the intent is to convey to the reader that the child is a good student who’s active in school and church, say that instead.

Being 17 is hard enough. Dealing with your parents’ highly contentious divorce at 17 makes it even harder. Having personal details about your life, your parents, your father’s affairs, and the sex acts your father engaged in during these affairs with this or that specific person out there for the whole world to see would be mortifying.

Our appellate courts must do better.

Owens v. Owens (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, November 24, 2021).

If you found this helpful, please share it using the buttons below.

Equal Parenting Time Reversed in Decatur, Tennessee Divorce: Owens v. Owens was last modified: December 8th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

Leave a Comment