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Robinson v. Robinson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 16, 2015


January 22, 2015 Session

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. I-01269 James G. Martin, III, Judge

Casey A. Long, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Susan Kathleen Robinson (Drolsum).

Roger Reid Street, Jr., Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Terrance Moore Robinson, Jr.

Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Richard h. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.



Susan Kathleen Robinson ("Mother") and Terrence Moore Robinson, Jr. ("Father") were divorced by a decree entered in June 2001. They have one child ("Son"), born in 1998. After the divorce was granted, Father moved to Memphis, and the parenting plan was modified to provide that Son would reside with Mother in Fairview during the school year and with Father in Memphis for eight weeks in the summer.[1]Mother was designated the primary residential parent. The parenting plan was most recently modified in 2011.

In December 2013, Father filed a petition to change primary residential parent.[2] Father sought to be designated the primary residential parent so that Son could live with him in Memphis during the school year, attend Memphis University School ("MUS"), and swim for its team. In January 2014, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing and heard extensive testimony from the parties, Son, and others, which revealed that, in the years since the most recent modification of the parenting plan, Son had become a nationally-ranked swimmer with a demanding practice schedule. Son swam with the Nashville Aquatic Club during the school year and with the University of Memphis swim team during the summer. Due to the time commitment required to excel at this sport, Son's social circle was composed almost entirely of people who were involved in swimming with him. Son's current high school did not have a swimming team, and his opportunities to form friendships with his classmates were limited as a result.

Following the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that a material change in circumstance had occurred based on Son's swimming expertise and the exceptional amount of time he devoted to training coupled with its impact on his social development. The trial court also found that it was in Son's best interests to designate Father as the primary residential parent. In making this determination, the trial court found that most of the best interest factors favored neither parent. However, the trial court was greatly impressed by the testimony it heard from the parties' fifteen-year-old son about his desire to live with his Father and attend MUS. The trial court afforded great weight to Son's expressed preference, finding that it was genuine, long-standing, and based on good reasons.

As a result of its findings, the trial court designated Father as the primary residential parent and reversed the residential parenting schedule so that Son would spend the school year with Father and the summer with Mother. Mother appealed.

Standard of Review

A trial court's determinations of whether a material change in circumstances has occurred and where the best interests of the child lie are factual questions. In re T.C.D., 261 S.W.3d 734, 742 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). This court reviews custody and visitation decisions de novo with a presumption that the trial court's findings of fact are correct unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. Kendrick v. Shoemake, 90 S.W.3d 566, 569 (Tenn. 2002); Nichols v. Nichols, 792 S.W.2d 713, 716 (Tenn. 1990). Evidence preponderates against the trial court's findings of fact when it supports another finding with greater convincing effect. See Walker v. Sidney Gilreath & Associates, 40 S.W.3d 66, 71 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). We will affirm the trial court's decision unless the evidence preponderates against the trial court's factual determinations or unless the trial court has committed an error of law affecting the outcome of the case. Boyer v. Heimermann, 238 S.W.3d 249, 254-55 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007).

Appellate courts are reluctant to second-guess a trial court's determination regarding custody and visitation. Parker v. Parker, 986 S.W.2d 557, 563 (Tenn. 1999). This is because of the broad discretion given to trial courts in matters of child custody, visitation and related issues. Id; see also Nelson v. Nelson, 66 S.W.3d 896, 901 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). Custody decisions often hinge on subtle factors, such as the parents' demeanor and credibility during the proceedings. Adelsperger v. Adelsperger, 970 S.W.2d 482, 485 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). Accordingly, trial courts have broad discretion to fashion custody and visitation arrangements that best suit the unique circumstances of each case. Parker, 986 S.W.2d at 563.

Furthermore, it is not the role of the appellate courts to "tweak [parenting plans] . . . in the hopes of achieving a more reasonable result than the trial court." Eldridge v. Eldridge, 42 S.W.3d 82, 88 (Tenn. 2001). This is particularly true when no error is evident from the record. Id.Thus, a trial court's decision regarding custody or visitation will be set aside only when it "falls outside the spectrum of rulings that might ...

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