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In re Hannah M.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 22, 2014


Assigned on Briefs December 4, 2014

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Sumner County No. 2011JV154, 2012JV70 Randy Lucas, Special Judge

Kimberly K. Schreiber, J. Ray Akers, and Quincy L. Salam, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, for the appellant, S.M.A.C.

Patti B. Garner, Gallatin, Tennessee, for the appellee, K.J.C.

Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.



I. Background

The minor children at issue in this case were born in June 2006 and January 2009, respectively. On or about February 18, 2011, the children's maternal grandmother, K.J.C. ("Grandmother, " or "Appellee") witnessed the children's mother, T.M. ("Mother"), smoking crack cocaine while the children were present in her home.[2] Grandmother called the police, who investigated the case. Mother was given a drug screen, and she tested positive for cocaine. At that point, the State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") became involved in the case and removed the children from Mother's home. The children were initially placed with their maternal great-grandmother.

On March 2, 2011, DCS filed a petition for dependency and neglect. Following a hearing on March 9, 2011, the court adjudicated the children to be dependent and neglected within the meaning of the law. On March 21, 2011, Grandmother filed a petition with the trial court, asking that the children be placed in her custody. As grounds for her petition, Grandmother averred that Mother was often present at the great-grandmother's home and was usually under the influence of drugs. On April 20, 2011, the trial court issued a bench order, placing custody of the minor children with Grandmother, pending further order of the court. In addition, the court found that S.M.A.C. ("Father, " or "Appellant") had not been established as the father of the children and, therefore, did not have standing to proceed on Grandmother's petition for custody of the children. By order of May 9, 2011, the court allowed Grandmother to remove the children from the State of Tennessee to reside in her home in Missouri; however, the court retained jurisdiction over the case. Mother was also granted visitation with the children one day per month at the Sumner County Jail, where Mother was incarcerated. Father was granted supervised visitation pending a paternity determination.

On November 28, 2011, Mother moved the trial court to expand her visitation. Before the court ruled on that motion, on January 10, 2012, Mother filed a petition asking that she be given full custody of the children. On the same day, the court held a hearing to review the case and ordered Mother to pay child support to the Grandmother. The court further ordered that Mother was not to have the children around Father.

On February 10, 2012, Father filed a petition to establish paternity. On March 7, 2012, the court ordered a DNA test, which revealed that S.M.A.C. was the children's biological father. On April 11, 2012, the court found that S.M.A.C. was the natural father of the minor children. The court further ordered that Father's visitation would continue per the May 9, 2011 order. The court, however, ordered that Father should begin making child support payments directly to Grandmother pending further orders of the court.

On June 18, 2012, the court approved a proposal by the parties, wherein Grandmother would continue to be custodian of the minor children, and Father would have visitation graduating into every other weekend. Mother was granted visitation one weekend per month. The court further ordered Father to pay child support to Grandmother, through Grandmother's attorney, pending the state of Missouri setting up a child support account in that state.

On December 21, 2012, the trial court ordered Father to stop having the children ask the Grandmother over the phone for additional visitation time. The court found his actions to be manipulative, not proper parenting, and not in the best interests of the children. The court further found that both Mother and Father had violated prior orders of the court by having contact with the children during Christmas 2011. Mother and Father were both again ordered to pay child support to Grandmother.

On April 30, 2013, Father filed a motion for temporary custody, asking the court to allow the children to reside with him, "subject to reasonable parenting time with the Mother and visits with [Grandmother]." Grandmother opposed the motion, arguing, inter alia, that Father has continued to violate the court's orders restraining him from making derogatory comments to the children about Grandmother and talking with the children about the pending case. Grandmother also averred that "Father is not a fit and proper party to maintain primary parenting responsibilities." Specifically, ...

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