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In re Jaiden W.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 23, 2015

IN RE JAIDEN W., ET AL.

April 8, 2015 Session

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Coffee County No. 07J1623 Timothy R. Brock, Judge

Greg W., Manchester, Tennessee, Pro Se

Eric J. Burch, Manchester, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jessica J.

Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.

OPINION

KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

I. Background

A full recitation of the relevant facts is set out in this Court's opinions in In re Jaiden C.W., No. M2010–01105–COA–R3–JV, 2011 WL 2306057 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 7, 2011) ("Jaiden I") and In re Jaiden C.W., 420 S.W.3d 13 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) ("Jaiden II"). Appellee Jessica J. ("Mother") and Appellant Greg W. ("Father") are the unmarried parents of two minor children, Jaiden C.W. and Caiden J.W., who were born in 2006.[1] While the parties were together, Father provided Mother $400 per month in child support. Jaiden I, 2011 WL 2306057, at *1. However, the parties' relationship ended in October 2007, after which time Father ceased payment of child support. Id. In November 2007, Father filed a petition to establish paternity of the children and for designation of primary residential parent. Id. Mother counter-petitioned for child support. Id.

In Jaiden I, this Court vacated the trial court's determination of Appellant Father's child support obligation because the trial court did not base its determination on Father's actual income. Upon remand, the trial court interpreted the law of the case to limit its review only to Father's income and to negate any consideration of other variables affecting child support. Because the trial court misinterpreted the law of the case to limit its review of the parties' actual circumstances, we vacated the order on child support and remanded for reconsideration in Jaiden II, to wit:

The gravamen of our holding in Jaiden I is that the parties' actual circumstances should dictate the calculation of their respective support obligations. In the first appeal, we determined, based on the stated issue, that Father's actual income was not used to calculate his support obligation for the period August 22, 2008 to September 28, 2009. But, contrary to the trial court's interpretation, this Court said nothing about limiting the review only to Father's actual income. Rather, we clearly stated that, "[i]f the evidence at trial demonstrates developments subsequent to the entry of the temporary order undermine its calculation, the court should modify the award to reflect the parties' actual circumstances." The mandate, then, was for the trial court to determine the parties' actual circumstances, within the parameters set in the opinion. For example, in Jaiden I, this Court specifically affirmed the imputation of income to Mother from October 1, 2007 until August 22, 2008. Accordingly, on remand, the trial court, under the law of the case doctrine, would be precluded from revisiting that specific question. Likewise, under our holding in Jaiden I, the trial court is precluded from revisiting the issue of attorney's fees.
In addition, Jaiden I only addresses child support obligations and arrears arising on or after August 22, 2008. In this regard, Jaiden I gave the trial court a specific mandate to consider Father's actual income only from August 22, 2008 going forward. However, contrary to the trial court's interpretation, this Court did not otherwise limit the trial court's review on remand concerning its consideration of factors and variables that may have changed since the August 22, 2008 date. In fact, in Jaiden I, we cited extensively from the case of Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005), for the proposition that the trial court retains discretion in determining support obligations. Jaiden I, 2011 WL 2306057, at * 1-*2. Again, the gravamen of our holding in Jaiden I is that, in exercising its discretion, the trial court should endeavor to ascertain and give effect to the parties' actual circumstances, which will necessarily change over the course of time, e.g., people remarry, have more children, insurance premiums rise and fall, and child care needs change. Accordingly, it was not this Court's intention to limit the court's discretion or its ability to review all relevant variables that may have arisen or changed from August 22, 2008 until the date of the hearing on remand. Rather, our opinion was intended to encourage the trial court to ascertain the parties' actual circumstances and to calculate the support obligations in accordance with their respective realities. Upon remand, the court should not limit its review, but should allow evidence, from both sides, concerning changes in circumstances and other relevant variables, from August 22, 2008 until the date of the hearing, in an effort to ground its calculation of child support and any arrearage thereon on the totality of the actual circumstances that exist, which is the only way to reach a just result.

Jaiden II, 420 S.W.3d at 21-22.

On remand from this Court, on December 9, 2013, the trial court held a hearing on the question of the respective child support obligations of the parties during the relevant time period, August 22, 2008 through September 28, 2009.[2] At the hearing, Mother testified that she gave birth to a second set of twins, who are not at issue in this appeal, on July 21, 2009. She stated that, during the relevant time period, she was a stay-at-home mom and that her sole income was from selling Avon from her home. As a sales representative for Avon, Mother testified that she made approximately $300 per month. At the close of the hearing, the trial court stated that

based on the proof today, I find that [Mother's] income for the entire period of time is $300. The additional testimony, which was not offered before, was that she had a high-risk pregnancy [with the second set of twins] and was under work restrictions . . . . The trial court ...

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