Unsupervised Parenting Time after Child Abduction Challenged in Clarksville, Tennessee Divorce: Liebetreu v. Libetreu

March 30, 2022 K.O. Herston 1 Comments

Facts: Father and Mother, a German national, met and married when Father served in the U.S. military and was stationed in Germany. They moved to the U.S. and have two children.

When the parties separated, they agreed that Mother would take the children to Germany to visit her family from mid-May through mid-August. At that point, she and the children would return to the U.S. Three days before they were to return, Father traveled to Germany to assist Mother and the children in their return to the U.S. Mother told him that neither she nor the children were leaving Germany.

Father initiated proceedings in German courts under the Hague Convention to secure the children’s return to the U.S. The German court ruled that Mother had unlawfully abducted the children in Germany and ordered her to return them to Father.

Mother failed to comply with this ruling and appealed it.

After losing her appeal, Mother relinquished custody of the children to Father.

While the custody battle was ongoing in Germany, Father filed for divorce in Tennessee. He also asked the Tennessee court to order “abduction prevention measures” to prevent Mother from taking the children to Germany.

After the trial, the trial court found Mother had illegally abducted the children to Germany and designated Father as the primary residential parent. Mother was awarded two months of unsupervised visitation with the children in Germany conditioned on Mother posting a $50,000 bond as a financial deterrent to abduction, which could pay for the cost of recovering the children, including attorney’s fees, if Mother abducted them again. Mother was also ordered to surrender the children’s German passports to Father and never apply for replacement passports. She also was ordered to complete some education about the harmful effects of abduction on the children. Finally, Mother was ordered to pay Father’s attorney’s fees.

Father appealed.

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

Father argued the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Mother unsupervised parenting time in Germany because she posed a high risk of abduction. He further argued that the $50,000 bond requirement was an insufficient deterrent.

Tennessee appellate courts review such decisions under the abuse of discretion standard, which means the trial court’s decision will be upheld if reasonable minds can disagree on the propriety of that decision. A trial court abuses its discretion only when it applies an incorrect legal standard or reaches a decision that is against logic or reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party. Under this standard of review, an appellate court may not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court.

The Court found no abuse of discretion on these facts:

In his brief, Father argues that the $50,000 bond imposed on Mother is not a sufficient deterrent to prevent a subsequent abduction. We are somewhat perplexed by Father’s contention in this regard considering his position in the trial court. In response to Mother’s motion to alter or amend wherein she requested that the bond requirement be lifted or, in the alternative, lowered, Father asserted that her bond was “completely appropriate and consistent with Tennessee Annotated § 36-6-601, et seq., The Uniform Child Abduction Act….” Not only is Father’s attempt to now change his position on appeal not well-taken, but we also conclude that the $50,000 bond requirement was appropriate under § 36-6-608.

Father also opines that the severity of Mother’s actions renders her such a high risk for abduction that she should not be afforded unsupervised visitation. However, we are unconvinced, as we find nothing in the record supporting Father’s contentions in this regard. … Despite Mother’s previous actions, the trial court imposed certain restrictions as contemplated by § 36-6-608(d), as well as others, in order to deter any future abductions. We find nothing in the statute wherein the trial court was required to completely restrict any international visitation, which appears to be Father’s goal. Likewise, we find nothing in the facts of this case which would have dictated that the trial court completely deny any unsupervised visitation. Rather, it was well within the court’s discretion to allow Mother visitation with the children upon the completion of certain conditions.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) This appeal faced long odds because of the deferential standard of review and because the trial court took substantial steps to deter Mother from trying that ill-advised stunt again.

(2) This case presented the “Battle of the Gregory D. Smiths” because each party was represented by a Middle Tennessee family-law attorney named—you guessed it—Gregory D. Smith. Therefore, the Court felt it necessary to drop a footnote explaining that they are not the same person.

Liebetreu v. Liebetreu (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, March 18, 2022).

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

Unsupervised Parenting Time after Child Abduction Challenged in Clarksville, Tennessee Divorce: Liebetreu v. Libetreu was last modified: March 31st, 2022 by K.O. Herston

1 people reacted on this

Leave a Comment