Lack of Best-Interest Analysis Dooms Parenting Plan Modification in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee: Moore v. Moore

January 31, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, their parenting plan provided for equal parenting time and joint decision-making authority for major decisions for their children.

A few months after the divorce, Father petitioned to modify the parenting plan. He claimed Mother was not exercising her parenting time and had moved to Indiana.

Despite her move to Indiana, Mother claimed she still tried to exercise her parenting time in Tennessee, but Father prevented her from doing so.

The trial court modified the parenting plan to reduce Mother’s parenting time to the third weekend of every month plus two weeks in the summer. Although neither party requested it, Father was also given sole decision-making authority over major decisions. In addition, Mother was made responsible for transporting the children to and from Indiana until she stopped “bad-mouthing” Father.

Mother appealed.

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

Mother challenged the allocation of parenting time, the award of sole decision-making authority to Father, and her responsibility for all the children’s transportation.

All final judgments of divorce involving a minor child must include a permanent parenting plan. Absent an agreement, once a permanent parenting plan is incorporated into a final judgment of divorce, parties must follow it unless the court modifies it. If a material change has occurred, the court must then decide whether modifying the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest by examining the statutory best-interest factors found at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a).

The Court faulted the trial court for not considering the statutory best-interest factors:

Mother argued, and Father acknowledges, the trial court failed to conduct a best interest analysis. In a best-interest analysis, the court shall consider all relevant factors. And it must discuss those relevant factors.

The court here arguably made some best-interest findings for a plan making Father the primary residential parent. For example, the court found that Father had been caring for the children most of the time, while Mother failed to exercise her parenting time. … But the court did not relate these findings to any best-interest factors. Its order did not demonstrate a consideration of the relevant factors. Instead, the findings support consequences for Mother’s prior conduct. For example, transportation costs were taxed to Mother, not based on a best-interest determination, but because Mother was discussing the case and “bad-mouthing” Father with the children. Parenting plans should never be used to punish parents for their human frailties or past missteps.

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Due to the lack of a best-interest analysis, we vacate the trial court’s modification of the parenting plan and remand the case for a determination of the child’s best interest.

The case was remanded to the trial court to conduct a new evidentiary hearing followed by the court’s analysis of the best-interest factors.

Moore v. Moore (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 24, 2022).

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Lack of Best-Interest Analysis Dooms Parenting Plan Modification in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee: Moore v. Moore was last modified: January 28th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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