Articles 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

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A man and a woman entered into a contract with a surrogate and her husband that provided for the surrogate to be artificially inseminated by the sperm of the intended father. After giving birth, the surrogate was meant to relinquish the child to the biological father and the intended mother. Seventeen days prior to the birth of the child, a juvenile court issued a consent order that declared the paternity of the child, granted custody to the intended parents, and terminated the parental rights of the surrogate. Approximately one week after the surrogate gave birth, she filed a series of motions asking the magistrate to vacate the consent order, set aside the surrogacy contract, and award her custody. The magistrate denied the motions. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the portion of the juvenile court’s order terminating the parental rights of the surrogate but otherwise affirmed, holding (1) public policy requires compliance with the statutory procedures for the termination of parental rights and does not allow parties to terminate the parental rights of a traditional surrogate through judicial ratification of a traditional surrogacy contract; and (2) in this instance, the contractual provisions circumventing the statutory procedures for the termination of parental rights were unenforceable. Remanded. View "In re Baby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Family Law

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When Mother filed for divorce from Father, the parties’ daughter was living with Mother, and the parties’ son was living with Father. Both parties sought custody of their son. During trial, Mother’s witness was her son’s guidance counselor, who testified by telephone without objection. The trial court divided the martial property, assigned alimony, and designated Mother as primary residential parent for both children. Father appealed. The court of appeals reversed, finding that the trial court erred when it relied on the testimony of the counselor. The Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s custody decision, holding (1) appellate courts should review a trial court’s decision regarding the credibility of a witness who testifies by telephone using the same deferential standard as a live witness; (2) the court of appeals erred by independently weighing the guidance counselor’s testimony by telephone; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in assigning Mother as the son’s primary residential parent. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Upon Mother and Father's divorce, Mother was named the primary residential parent of the parties' two minor children, and Father was awarded visitation. Overall, Mother was allocated 280 days and Father eighty-five days of residential parenting time. Approximately one year later, Father filed a motion to modify the parenting plan, requesting equal time with the children. The trial court concluded that Father satisfied his burden of proving a change of circumstances and modified the residential parenting schedule to provide Mother 222 days and Father 143 days of parenting time with the children. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Father's relocation and remarriage were not material and unanticipated changes that affected the children in any meaningful way. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding that, in seeking to modify the residential parenting schedule, Father was not required to prove that his alleged material changes in circumstances were unanticipated when the schedule was originally established. View "Armbrister v. Armbrister" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case involved grandparents' visitation rights and the applicable burden of proof and standards trial court should apply when grandparents and parents seek to modify and terminate, respectively, court-ordered grandparent visitation. The Court held that the burden of proof is upon the grandparent or parent seeking the modification or termination to demonstrate, by a preponderance, that both a material change in circumstances has occurred and that change is in the child's best interests. View "Lovlace et al. v. Copley et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In this divorce action, the trial court divided the parties' real and personal property, awarded custody of the children to the wife, and declined to award spousal support to the husband. The court of appeals (1) affirmed the trial court's custody determination and, except for the trial court's refusal to divide the wife's post-separation income, upheld the classification and division of the marital estate; but (2) reversed the trial court's judgment regarding spousal support and ordered the wife to to pay the husband transitional alimony in the amount of $2000 per month for thirty-six months. The Supreme Court (1) reversed that portion of the court of appeals' judgment awarding the husband transitional alimony, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award the husband transitional alimony; and (2) affirmed in all other respects the intermediate appellate court's decision.View "Mayfield v. Mayfield " on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Shortly after the death of her daughter, Grandmother filed a petition seeking visitation with her granddaughter. The trial court denied Grandmother's request because she failed to prove the statutory grounds necessary to permit a court to order grandparental visitation over a parent's objection. After the decision became final, the General Assembly amended the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute. Without alleging new facts and relying solely on the change in the statutory burden of persuasion, Grandmother filed a second petition seeking visitation with her granddaughter. The trial court granted the child's father's motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the intervening change in the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute did not provide an exception to the operation of the res judicata doctrine, and therefore, absent some material change in the facts, the doctrine of res judicata barred relitigation of Grandmother's petition for grandparental visitation.View "Jackson v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law