Articles Posted in Family Law

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A trial court, after the abatement of a divorce action, may remedy a violation of the statutory injunction imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. 36-4-106(d)(2), which prohibits parties after a divorce complaint is served from changing the beneficiary on any life insurance policy that names either party as the beneficiary, by considering the equities of the parties. After suing Bryan Olson for divorce, Jessica Olson changed the beneficiary on her life insurance policy from Bryan to her mother, Rose Coleman. After Jessica died, Rose collected the life insurance benefits. Rose then sued Bryan for grandparent visitation. Bryan responded that he did not oppose visitation and countersued to recover the life insurance benefits. The trial court (1) awarded the insurance benefits to the Olsons’ child, finding that Jessica had intended to substitute the child as the beneficiary, and (2) awarded Rose grandparent visitation. The court of appeals (1) awarded Bryan the life insurance benefits based on Jessica’s violation of the statutory injunction, and (2) reversed the visitation award. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded, holding (1) the Olsons’ divorce action abated when Jessica died, and the statutory injunction Jessica violated became ineffective; and (2) Rose was not entitled to court-ordered grandparent visitation absent Bryan’s opposition to visitation. View "Coleman v. Olson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Charity Spires and Plaintiff-Appellee Kenneth Spires married and had one child, Uriah. A month after Uriah was born, Kenneth abandoned Charity and the child. Though the Spires did not divorce, Kenneth never returned to the marital home. Charity died in an automobile accident involving Defendant Haley Simpson. Custody of Uriah was awarded to his maternal grandmother, Constance Ogle, who served as administrator of Charity's estate. Kenneth filed this wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson and her parents. Ogle sought to intervene. While she acknowledged Kenneth was the Decedent's surviving spouse, Ogle argued he should be disqualified from prosecuting the lawsuit because he owed child support arrearages, and because the abandoned the Decedent and Uriah. While Ogle’s motion to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit was still pending, a Chancery Court entered an order of adoption, permitting the Decedent’s brother, Captain (now Major) Dana Trent Hensley, Jr., M.D., to adopt Uriah. The adoption order terminated Kenneth's parental rights as to Uriah. Ultimately the trial court granted the motion to intervene, dismissed Kenneth from the suit and substituted Ogle and Major Hensley as plaintiffs. Kenneth appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that as the surviving spouse, Kenneth was not disqualified from commencing and maintaining the wrongful death action, notwithstanding the child support obligation. Because Kenneth was not statutorily disqualified from bringing the action, the Court of Appeals held that he was the proper plaintiff and that Kenneth and Uriah were each entitled to half of the settlement proceeds under the laws of intestate succession. Based on Kenneth's stipulation that he owed almost $72,000 in child support for four other children, the appellate court determined that his entire portion of the lawsuit proceeds had to be paid towards his outstanding child support obligations through the Child Support Receipting Unit. The Tennessee Supreme Court held the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) were intended to apply only to cases in which the “parent” who seeks to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit was a parent of the decedent child, and the child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Neither statute was applicable under the facts of this case. Consequently, the Court reversed and vacated the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals applying Sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) in this case. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spires v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In this custody dispute, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred in reversing the judgment of the juvenile court and awarding Mother custody of the parties’ minor children and erred in ordering the change in custody prior to an opportunity for the Father to appeal to the Supreme Court. In 2013, Father and Mother agreed to a modification of an existing parenting plan. Father later learned that Mother had relocated from Ohio to Nevada with the parties’ minor children, where she was employed as a prostitute. The juvenile court granted Father’s motion for an emergency temporary custody order and a temporary restraining order and designated Father as the primary residential parent. The juvenile court upheld the magistrate’s determination, finding a material change in circumstances. The court subsequently concluded that changing the primary residential parent from Mother to Father was in the best interest of the children. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals committed reversible error by failing to accurately apply the standard of review; and (2) the juvenile court properly applied the statutory factors governing a best interest analysis, and its conclusion was not an abuse of discretion. View "C.W.H. v. L.A.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In this wrongful death case, the court of appeals erred by vacating the trial court’s order and remanding the case for further proceedings without reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the decedent’s child’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion. The decedent’s mother, in her capacity as her unmarried son’s next of kind, filed this wrongful death suit, seeking damages. The case was settled and dismissed. Almost twenty months later, the decedent’s alleged minor child filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the order of dismissal and to be substituted as the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds that it was not timely filed. The court of appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling, ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not ripe for adjudication until the trial court conclusively established the child’s paternity. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding (1) the court of appeals erred by focusing on issues surrounding the child’s paternity rather than reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the Rule 60.02 motion; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not timely filed. View "Hussey v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Father’s appeal in this termination of parental rights case satisfied the signature requirement contained in Tenn. Code Ann. 36-1-124(d) and was not subject to dismissal. Father timely a timely notice of appeal from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights. The notice of appeal was signed by Father’s attorney but not signed personally by Father.The court of appeals entered an order directing Father to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for failure to comply with section 36-1-124(d). Father’s response included a challenge to the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the case and, after directing the parties and the attorney general to address certain issues, held (1) section 36-1-124(d) does not require a notice of appeal to be signed personally by the appellant; and (2) because the notice of appeal signed by Father’s attorney satisfied the signature requirement, Father’s appeal was not subject to dismissal, thus rendering moot the other issues before the court. View "In re Bentley D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court’s determination that the combined weight of the facts of this case did not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) removed three children from the custody of Mother and placed them with foster parents. Mother cooperated with DCS and complied with a permanency plan that set the goal for the children as reunification. Foster Parents filed a petition seeking to terminate Mother’s parental rights and to adopt the children. The juvenile court, meanwhile, ordered DCS to place the children with Mother for the trial home visit. The trial court dismissed Foster Parents’ petition, finding that Foster Parents had proven a ground for termination by clear and convincing proof but had failed to establish by clear and convincing proof that termination was in the children’s best interests. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, holding that the trial court correctly held that the combined weight of the proof did not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the best interests of the children. View "In re Gabriella D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Upon their divorce, Wife and Husband entered into a marital dissolution agreement (MDA) that contained a provision entitling the prevailing party to an award of appellate attorney’s fees in subsequent legal proceedings. The MDA was incorporated into the parties’ final divorce decree. Wife later filed a relocation motion seeking to modify the parties’ parenting plan. Wife then filed a motion for judgment against Husband for reimbursement of uncovered medical expenses. After a hearing, the trial court granted both motions filed by Wife and awarded Wife attorney’s fees based on the MDA. The court of appeals affirmed but declined Wife’s request for an award of fees and costs on appeal. Wife appealed, arguing that she was entitled to appellate attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Wife was entitled to an award of appellate attorney’s fees incurred before the court of appeals under the parties’ MDA. View "Eberbach v. Eberbach" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Family Law

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The trial court entered a divorce decree between Mother and Father that incorporated an agreed parenting plan that did not designate a primary residential parent. After the divorce, Father spent the majority of the residential parenting time with the parties’ child. Father later filed a petition asking the trial court to modify the parenting plan to permit him to move with the child to Arizona because he had secured a job in an area where he and the child would live near family. After a trial, the trial court concluded that Father did not have a “reasonable purpose” for the relocation under Tennessee’s parental relocation statute, Tenn. Code Ann. 36-6-108. The court then entered a modified parenting plan designating Mother as the primary residential parent. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Webster v. Webster is overruled insofar as it misconstrued the meaning of the term “reasonable purpose” as used in the parental relocation statute; and (2) under the natural and ordinary meaning of the term “reasonable purpose,” Father stated a reasonable purpose for relocating with the parties’ child to Arizona, and Mother did not establish a ground for denying Father permission to relocate with the child. Remanded. View "Aragon v. Aragon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In 2001, Father filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother did not file an answer to the petition. The trial court subsequently entered a default judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights. In 2010, Mother filed a petition seeking to set aside the judgment terminating her parental rights as void for lack of personal jurisdiction. Father argued that Mother’s petition was barred by the one-year statute of repose applicable to judgments terminating parental rights and thus should be dismissed. The trial court granted Mother’s petition and set aside the default judgment terminating her parental rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the default judgment was void for lack of personal jurisdiction; (2) the reasonable time filing requirement of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 does not apply to petitions seeking relief from void judgments under Rule 60.02(3); and (3) however, relief from a void judgment should be denied if certain exceptional circumstances exist. Remanded for a hearing to determine whether exceptional circumstances justify denying relief in this case. View "Turner v. Turner" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the Department of Children's Services (DCS) filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights to his child. In 2013, the juvenile court terminated the parental rights of Father. The court of appeals reversed, holding that DCS was required to make reasonable efforts to assist Father, and reasonable efforts were not made. At issue was whether, in a petition to terminate the parental rights of a biological parent, the State is required to prove that it made reasonable efforts to reunify the parent with the child as a precondition to termination. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals in this case, holding that, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 36-1-113, the State need not prove that it made reasonable efforts as an essential component of its petition to terminate parental rights. In so holding, the Court overruled In re C.M.M. and its progeny to the extent the cases required the State to prove reasonable efforts as an essential component of the termination petition. View "In re Kaliyah S." on Justia Law