Material Change to Modify Parenting Schedule Examined in Clarksville, Tennessee: Macomber v. Macomber

March 1, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, Father received 147 days of parenting time via a schedule where the children lived primarily with Mother during the school year, during which Father had weekend visitation, and lived primarily with Father during the summer. Father also exercised parenting time each day during the school week when he cared for the children from school dismissal until Mother ended her workday. This arrangement continued until March 2020, when the children began remote schooling at home, and Mother lost her employment because of the pandemic.

Three months later, Father petitioned to change the day-to-day schedule to provide equal parenting time because he was no longer allowed to exercise his daily coparenting time once the children began remote schooling.

The trial court dismissed Father’s petition after determining that Father did not establish a material change in circumstances that affected the children’s best interest. By the time of trial, the children had returned to in-person schooling. Since the original parenting plan could be followed again, the trial court reasoned there was no material change of circumstances.

Father appealed.

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

Once a parenting plan has been established, the parties must follow it unless and until it is modified.

To change an existing parenting plan, the trial court must first find that a material change in circumstances affecting the child’s best interest has occurred after the entry of the parenting plan.

If a material change in circumstances is found, the trial court must then determine whether changing the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest.

When a parent seeks only to change the day-to-day parenting schedule, the threshold for determining whether there has been a material change of circumstances is much lower than the threshold for changing the primary residential parent.

The Court found ample evidence that the low threshold for changing the day-to-day schedule was present here:

The undisputed evidence in the record satisfies the “very low threshold for establishing a material change of circumstances” [to modify the residential parenting schedule]. In particular, the testimony at the hearing established that the changes in Mother’s work schedule—from the loss of her job at the beginning of the pandemic to the new hours and mostly work-from-home arrangement in her new job—were significant or significantly impacted parenting. The result was Father’s missing the weekday parenting time contemplated in the original parenting plan. As the days turned to weeks, Father spent much less time with the children then he did before Mother lost her job and before the children began virtual schooling. The testimony was that even after the children resumed in-person schooling, they needed to be returned to Mother after school because she was [no longer] working afternoon hours.

The Court reversed the trial court’s finding that Father did not establish a material change sufficient to modify the residential parenting schedule.

The case was remanded to the trial court to determine whether modification is in the children’s best interest.

Source: Macomber v. Macomber (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 30, 2023).

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Material Change to Modify Parenting Schedule Examined in Clarksville, Tennessee: Macomber v. Macomber was last modified: February 22nd, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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