TN Parenting Schedule Can Change After Child Starts School
Tennessee child custody modification case summary.
The father and mother in this Maury County, Tennessee, case were divorced in 2011. They had one child who was under two years old, and the divorce decree included an agreed parenting plan in which both parents had equal parenting time. The mother was named the primary residential parent.
In 2015, the mother filed a petition to modify the custody arrangements. She argued that the child was now school age, and the present plan was not workable for that reason. The father didn’t object to the petition, but filed a competing parenting plan naming himself as the primary residential parent. After a hearing, the court adopted the father’s plan, and invited to mother to file a plan the following school year. The mother then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The trial court had based its decision on the testimony of the parents. The mother was an attorney, and the father was a teacher and coach. They both testified as to their work schedules.
Under the plan adopted by the trial court, the child lived with the father during the week, with the mother having visitation on weekends. During the summer, the child would be with the mother primarily. The mother ws to pay $358 per month in child support. The order also provided that the court would consider changing the parenting plan at the end of the school year, without a showing of changed circumstances.
The Court of Appeals first noted that a parenting plan cannot be modified in the absence of a material change in circumstances. It then went on to determine if that standard had been met in this case. The party seeking the change must show that the change affects the child’s best interests. The appeals court held that this test had not been met.
It noted that the child’s age, by itself, does not constitute a changed circumstance, because all children get older every year. Prior cases had held that merely reaching school age, by itself, was not a sufficiently changed circumstance. There had been a few minor things such as missed telephone calls, but the court held that this was insufficient. However, these were held to be enough to possibly warrant changing the exact schedule of parenting time.
Before doing that, the court had to consider whether the change would be in the child’s best interests, and there was insufficient evidence in the record to make that determination. Therefore, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to consider modifying the schedule of the parenting plan, even though the overall plan, including primary residential parent, did not warrant changing.
No. M2015-02006-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sep. 30, 2016).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more, see Modifying Custody & Parenting Plans.
See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring actual examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on Amazon.com.