Supreme Court Makes Clear Recent Law Gives Greater Leeway to Parents Seeking to Modify Parenting Plans

October 21, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that aparent seeking to modify a residential parenting schedule after establishing a permanent parenting plan is not required to prove the parents did not anticipate a significant change in circumstances at the time of the initial parenting agreement.

The Court explained that a law enacted in 2004 made obsolete earlier court rulings that had been understood as requiring such proof.

In the case before the court, the couple divorced when their son was three years old and their daughter was not quite one year old. The residential parenting schedule gave the mother 280 days and the father 85 days each year with the children. In 2011, the father petitioned the court seeking more time with the children because, since the divorce: (1) he had relocated his residence and his dentistry practice; (2) he had remarried and his current wife had established a positive relationship with the children and his ex-wife; and (3) the children were two years older than they were at the time of the divorce.

The trial court granted the father’s request and gave the father 143 days and the mother 222 days annually with the children.

The mother appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment, explaining that the father had failed to prove that the changes in circumstances could not have been reasonably anticipated when the initial residential parenting schedule was established. The father then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the opinion filed today, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, explaining the 2004 law makes modifying residential parenting schedules easier by eliminating the requirement that any significant change in circumstances could not have been reasonably anticipated at the time the original parenting plan was established.

The Court emphasized that the trial court properly applied the law and modified the residential parenting schedule consistently with other statutes instructing courts to structure residential parenting schedules so that both parents enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child.

Read the Opinion in Andrew K. Armbrister v. Melissa H. Armbrister, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.