Child’s Best Interest Challenged in Nashville, Tennessee Custody Change: Green v. Green

August 10, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father, the parents of Child, divorced in 2017. Mother and Child moved to Alabama. Living in Tennessee, Father received 85 days of parenting time, which he was required to exercise in Alabama.

A little over a year after the divorce, Mother brought Child to Father’s home and demanded entry so Child use the bathroom. While inside, Mother discovered a picture of Father and his new girlfriend with Child. Mother threatened Child with repercussions, while Father assured Child that he—the child—had done nothing wrong.

Mother intentionally ran her vehicle into Father’s truck a few days later. Father called the police but did not press charges.

The next day, during the girlfriend’s morning commute, Mother cut in front of her vehicle and repeatedly slammed her brakes, nearly causing an accident. The police issued Mother a traffic citation. The girlfriend obtained a one-year order of protection against Mother and swore out [a] criminal warrant for stalking. Mother later pleaded guilty to the stalking charge.

Father petitioned to change the parenting plan to obtain custody of Child. He also asked for a temporary restraining order requiring Mother to immediately surrender physical custody of Child to Father, which the trial court entered the next day.

The following weekend, Father was unable to exercise all his parenting time in Alabama because of a work conflict, so after Father exercised some of his time, Child was allowed to visit with his paternal grandparents.

Mother retrieved Child from the grandparents’ home, drove to a rest area outside of Birmingham, and sent Father a stream of text messages demanding that he pick up Child. When he did not respond, Mother sent a video that showed Mother leaving Child alone at the rest stop to wait for Father. Father immediately began the one-and-a-half-hour drive to the rest stop. He also called the police to ensure Child was safe until he arrived.

Unbeknownst to Child or Father, Mother remained in the area. When Father arrived, she tried to keep him from taking custody of Child. But law enforcement let Father leave with Child based on the temporary restraining order (it is unclear when Mother learned of the order). Mother followed Father and Child onto the interstate and tried to force Father’s vehicle off the road. He avoided her maneuvers and arrived home safely with Child.

The trial court found that Mother had emotionally abused Father and Child, so her contact with Child should be limited. At first, Mother was restricted to scheduled phone calls with Child. A few months later, she was allowed three hours of supervised parenting time each week. By agreed order, her supervised visitation increased substantially in later months.

For various reasons, two years elapsed before the final hearing on Father’s modification petition. During that time, Mother continued to harass Father and his new wife. She emailed Father’s employer, accusing him of embezzlement and drug trafficking. She told law enforcement that Father was a known drug dealer. She posted disparaging comments about Father’s wife on social media. She swore out a petition for an order of protection against Father’s wife, which was dismissed after an evidentiary hearing. And she repeatedly asked law enforcement to make unnecessary welfare checks on Child.

The trial court issued another restraining order prohibiting Mother from contacting Father’s employer, coworkers, or supervisors and harassing, threatening, or intimidating Father and his family.

The trial court found Mother’s behavior to be a material change of circumstances that negatively affected Child. Her conduct was “one of the most egregious examples of inappropriate behavior by a parent” the trial court had ever seen. Trial court found it was in Child’s best interest to limit his contact with Mother until she showed she had ended her inappropriate behavior. Custody was changed to Father, Father was given sole decision-making authority over major decisions, and Mother was awarded 80 days of unsupervised parenting time.

Mother, acting pro se, appealed to challenge the trial court’s determination of Child’s best interest.

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

To no one’s surprise, the Court made quick work of this appeal:

Since the divorce, each parent had been [Child’s] primary caregiver, Mother for 14 months and Father for 29. But Mother’s inappropriate conduct exposed [Child] to unnecessary conflict and constituted emotional abuse. The court credited the psychologist’s testimony that Mother’s anger issues caused her to make decisions that were not in [Child’s] best interest. So the court found that she was not emotionally fit to be the primary caregiver at this time. Given her ongoing harassment of Father and his wife, it appeared unlikely that she would encourage a close and continuing relationship between Father and son. Nor does it appear that joint parenting was a workable option. After 29 months as [Child’s] primary caregiver, Father had the stronger parental bond. Father had provided the more stable and tranquil environment. And [Child] was thriving. So the court determined that it was in [Child’s] best interest to award custody to Father and to limit Mother to 80 days of residential parenting time.

We discern no abuse of discretion in awarding custody to Father in limiting Mother’s parenting time. While Mother contends that the court discounted her emotional bond with [Child] and her role as his primary caregiver, the court expressly recognized Mother’s love for her son and her active involvement in his life. But she also “made him a party to her inappropriate behavior and jealousy.” And she did not appear to recognize the impact of her behavior on her son.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) I wonder why Father didn’t seek to recover his attorney’s fees and expenses. He would’ve had an excellent argument on these facts.

(2) Mother was fortunate to receive 80 days of unsupervised parenting time. Her behavior over such a long period was indefensible.

Source: Green v. Green (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, July 27, 2023).

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Child’s Best Interest Challenged in Nashville, Tennessee Custody Change: Green v. Green was last modified: August 10th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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