Trial by Videoconference Challenged in Franklin, Tennessee Parental Relocation Case: In re Autumn H.

April 4, 2022 K.O. Herston 1 Comments

Facts: Father and Mother, a Canadian citizen, are the never-married parents of Child.

When Mother’s U.S. visa expired, which prevented her from having legal employment in the U.S., she sent a certified letter to Father informing him of her intention to relocate to Canada with Child.

Mother petitioned to allow her relocation and modify their parenting plan. Father opposed the relocation.

Boss fight!

The juvenile court magistrate found it was in Child’s best interest to relocate to Canada and allowed Mother to do so. As a result, Mother and Child moved to Canada in June 2020.

Father requested a de novo trial before the juvenile court judge, and this trial took place over three days in August 2020. Mother participated remotely from Canada via videoconferencing software because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The juvenile court judge granted Mother’s petition to relocate to Canada and revised the parenting plan to give Father parenting time for six weeks in the summer, spring break, winter break, and parenting time in Canada with seven days’ notice to Mother.

Father appealed.

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

After reviewing the trial court’s detailed findings, including findings that Father lacked credibility, the Court concluded that the evidence supported the trial court’s findings.

Father also argued the trial court erred by allowing Mother to participate in the trial via videoconferencing software. The Court disagreed:

Father also raised an issue concerning whether the court’s utilization of videoconferencing software had inhibited the Juvenile Court’s ability to understand and apply the evidence presented by the parties during appeal. On appeal, Father requests that this Court remand to the Juvenile Court “preferably for in-person proceedings to ensure that the trial court is able to reliably hear and understand the evidence and arguments being made and is able to avoid the issues created by the use of videoconferencing software.” Mother, however, averred that there were no major audio issues causing confusion with the proceedings. We agree with Mother. Since early in the Covid-19 pandemic, our Supreme Courts has encouraged the use of videoconferencing software in conducting court proceedings.

Upon our review of the transcripts, we find no evidence to suggest the Juvenile Court misunderstood or misapplied the evidence before the court. Father points the statements by the Juvenile Court finding that Mother was comparable to a “steadfast rock that cements the child’s feet to the ground” while describing Father as the “attractive, shiny, sleek yacht that sits in the harbor, mostly anchored, a nice place to vacation, but not necessarily the best place to remain permanently.” According to Father, technology issues “undoubtedly must have led” to the Juvenile Court’s mischaracterization of the parties.

We acknowledge that technology issues arise, as they did in this case. However, the Juvenile Court ensured that the issues were remedied each time. We disagree with Father’s argument and find no indication that the Juvenile Court misunderstood or misapplied the evidence in this case. Father’s disagreements with the Juvenile Court’s findings of fact provided no support for Father’s conclusion that the Juvenile Court misunderstood or misapplied the evidence. The evidence presented to the Juvenile Court does not preponderate against the extensive findings of fact made by the Juvenile Court. We find Father’s argument in this regard to be unavailing.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to allow Mother to relocate to Canada with Child.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) This is the first case I’ve seen where someone challenged the outcome of a trial because a party participated by videoconference. For those of us who tried cases by videoconference during the pandemic, that’s good news.

(2) Mother was pro se before the Magistrate, the Juvenile Court Judge, and the Court of Appeals, and prevailed in all forums against Father, an attorney himself who was represented by an attorney. She emerged undefeated with a record of 3-0. She should retire now and go out on top.

In re Autumn H. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, March 29, 2022).

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Trial by Videoconference Challenged in Franklin, Tennessee Parental Relocation Case: In re Autumn H. was last modified: March 31st, 2022 by K.O. Herston

1 people reacted on this

  1. They’ll go further than that. I raised a due process challenge to a termination trial where I and the client were only able to virtually appear due to the Supreme Court Covid order. I basically argued that it hamstrung me as I was not able to physically examine exhibits, observe the body language of the witnesses etc. I argued that like a criminal case this involved a fundamental right and they would not try a criminal case via Skype. The Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the termination.

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