Judge Requires Trial Court to Grant Father More Parenting Time on Appeal

This custody and visitation case was heard in Nashville, Tennessee in the Davidson County Juvenile Court. The parents were never married, but they had one child together.

The child was born one month premature, and Mother initially breast fed the baby. Therefore, Father started out with limited visits in the Mother’s home. Eventually he was allowed extended parenting time outside of the Mother’s home, eventually working up to visitation every other weekend from Saturday at 10am until Sunday at 6pm.

At the final hearing, Father requested 50/50 parenting time, which the court denied. The magistrate adopted the Mother’s parenting plan, with a few modifications. Father was granted approximately 85 days of parenting time each year, and Mother was granted sole decision making authority.

Father appealed the magistrate’s ruling, but he did not dispute the designation of Mother as the Primary Residential Parent.

The purpose of parenting time is to allow each parent to maintain a loving, stable and nurturing relationship with the child(ren) involved. The trial court found that the Mother had taken greater responsibility for performing parenting responsibilities related to the child’s daily needs. Mother was the child’s primary caregiver, and the child was thriving. Mother was also willing to facilitate and encourage a loving relationship between the child and Father. Mother had a more flexible employment schedule, as Father had to travel frequently, sometimes with very little notice.

Father argued that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated §36-6-106(a), required the court to grant him more time with the child. That statute provides that, “In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out in this subsection (a), the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors.”

Father’s calculations showed that he was only given 68 days per year with the minor child. Mother argued that Father received 85 days per year. A “day” of parenting time occurs “when the child spends more than twelve (12) consecutive hours in a twenty-four (24) hour period under the care, control or direct supervision of one parent or a caretaker. The twenty-four (24) hour period need not be the same as a twenty-four (24) hour calendar day.” Accordingly, a “day” of parenting time may encompass either an overnight period or a daytime period, or a combination thereof.” This definition is set out in the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines.

The judge on appeal agreed with Father that he only received 68 days of parenting time each year under the magistrate’s ruling. The Judge noted that Father did not even receive the minimum number of days that the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines assume a parent has, which is 80 days per year.

The Judge, therefore, found that Father could not enjoy maximum participation possible with the minor child under the magistrate’s order, and there was no justification for the minimal amount of parenting time awarded to Father. Therefore, the ruling of the trial court on parenting time was reversed, and the trial court was directed to grant Father at least 80 days per year, which was the minimum the appellate judge believed to be reasonable.

In re Grace N., No. M2014-00803-COA-R3-JV.

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