Court of Appeals Rejects Parenting Plan Limiting Father’s Parenting Time to 66 Days Per Year

Neveau v. Neveau (Tenn.Ct.App. filed June 7, 2017)

This is an appeal from a divorce in Loudon County, Tennessee. The trial court granted the parties an absolute divorce and named the mother the primary residential parent of the parties’ minor child. The father filed an appeal challenging the designation of the mother as the primary residential parent and questioning the number of days of parenting time he received in the
parenting plan.

The parties were married on February 12, 2011, approximately five months before the birth of their daughter.  Mother filed for divorce on May 29, 2013.  While the divorce was pending, the court on July 17, 2013 awarded the parties equal parenting time. By the time of this temporary visitation hearing, Father had relocated to Illinois.  The trial took place on May 12, 2014 and March 2, 2015. On October 21, 2015, the trial court granted the parties a divorce and awarded Mother 299 days of co-parenting time with the minor child and Father was given 66 days. Father filed an appeal.   Father challenged the parenting plan adopted by the trial court.

Father argued that affording him only 66 days of co-parenting time failed to maximize his participation in his daughter’s life. He argued that he should be allowed co-parenting time during every spring break and fall break, every long holiday weekend such as Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King Day, and in-service days. He also seeks every Easter and Thanksgiving break, the entirety of Christmas break, and the whole summer break. This requested schedule would increase Father’s parenting time to approximately 137 days.

Mother contended that the schedule proposed by Father would allow her little downtime with her daughter. She asserted that the child would have little time for extracurricular activities in Tennessee. Mother relied on Goddard v. Goddard, No. E2011-00777-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 601183 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2012): “[T]he best interests of the child are fundamentally interrelated with the best interests of the custodial parent. Similarly, we think that the best interests of the child are also fundamentally interrelated with the best interests of the parent with whom the child spends the majority of his or her time.” Id. at *9 (internal citations omitted).

The Court of appeals found that the evidence preponderated against a parenting plan that limits Father’s parenting time to only 66 days a year. The prior period of equal parenting time
allowed the child to develop a closer relationship with her Father and Paternal Grandmother. During that period, the Child also engaged in extracurricular activities in Illinois, such as sports, Girl Scouts, and dance, which Father and Paternal Grandmother described as an important part of the Child’s life. The Court concluded that the evidence preponderates in favor of a parenting plan that does not so greatly minimize the parenting time of Father.  The Court remanded the case to the trial court to adopt a plan that increases Father’s time with the Child.

Comment: Family law cases are fact specific. Note that this case was pending for over two years before the trial court decision was rendered, during which time Father had been allowed to have equal parenting time.

 

http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/neveau_v_neveau.pdf

 

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