Joint Decision-Making Authority Challenged in Clarksville, Tennessee: State ex rel. Guitierrez v. Baggett

October 9, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the divorced parents of two children. They shared joint decision-making authority over major decisions concerning their children.

Five years after their divorce, Mother sought permission from the court to have the children baptized in the Mormon church because Father refused to consent to it. The trial court granted Mother’s request.

Later, each party petitioned to change the parenting plan. Mother claimed the parties could not make joint medical decisions for the children and pointed to the motion she had to file to baptize the children. Mother sought sole decision-making authority over all educational, medical, extracurricular, and religious decisions.

The parties testified about the child’s medical issues and Father’s resistance to the recommended treatment plan. This delayed the child’s treatment for several months. Even when the child eventually started treatment, Father unilaterally reduced the prescribed dosage by half.

The trial court found the record was “replete with the inability of the parents to coparent,” and mutual decision-making had harmed the child as it relates to medical care.

The trial court found Mother should be awarded sole decision-making authority over religious and nonemergency healthcare decisions for the children.

Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Tennessee law states that a court shall order sole decision-making authority to one parent when (1) both parents oppose joint decision-making or (2) one parent opposes joint decision-making, and that parent’s opposition is reasonable, given the parties’ inability to satisfy the criteria for joint decision-making authority.

When awarding sole decision-making authority to one parent, Tennessee courts must consider each parent’s history of participating in decision-making, whether the parents have shown the ability and desire to cooperate in decision-making, and their geographic proximity to one another to the extent it affects their ability to make timely joint decisions.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant sole decision-making authority to Mother over the children’s medical decisions:

Despite Mother’s attempts to seek prompt care for [Child], Father’s disagreements and unilateral actions caused unnecessary delay in [Child’s] care. Father disregarded the advice of competent medical professionals and made decisions on [Child’s] behalf concerning medication without consulting Mother. The fact that the treatments prescribed ultimately improved [Child’s] issues indicates that Father’s recalcitrance worked against the child’s best interest. In sum, the evidence clearly shows that the parties are unable to make joint, nonemergency healthcare decisions for the children and that the joint decision-making requirement has been detrimental to [Child].

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The trial court found that Mother has been the children’s primary parent from their births, and she has a history of obtaining appropriate care for [Child’s] health issues. Despite Father’s delaying [Child’s] treatments, Mother attempted to coparent with him and continually provided him with information concerning doctors and scheduled appointments. Furthermore, the children spend the majority of their time with Mother, and Father lives several hours away. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that it was in the children’s best interests for Mother to be awarded sole decision-making authority over their nonemergency healthcare decisions, and we affirm the trial court’s award of the same.

However, the Court found error in the allocation of religious decision-making:

The only issue presented to the trial court concerning religious decisions on the children’s behalf, i.e., whether they would be baptized in the [Mormon] Church, was resolved before either party filed a petition to modify the parenting plan. Thus, there was no evidence presented concerning the parties’ current or ongoing inability to make religious decisions for the children. In the absence of any evidence of an ongoing issue with religious decision-making, we conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion in concluding that the parties were unable to make joint decisions for the children.

The Court affirmed the award of sole decision-making authority for nonemergency healthcare to Mother and reversed the trial court’s decision to give Mother sole decision-making authority over religious decisions.

Source: State ex rel. Guitierrez v. Baggett (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, September 28, 2023).

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Joint Decision-Making Authority Challenged in Clarksville, Tennessee: State ex rel. Guitierrez v. Baggett was last modified: October 8th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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